As George Zornick reported last week, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s budget for the coming fiscal year would have a devastating impact on the poor, elderly and disabled. By turning Medicare into a private voucher system and Medicaid into a block grant program, along with cuts to food stamps, it paints a frightening picture of what would happen if Republicans sweep the next election. Ryan’s plan enjoys enough support to pass in the House. In the Senate, which Republicans are likely to take over because Democrats have so many more seats up for re-election, it would only need a simple majority since budget bills can avoid being filibustered.
And that is why Ryan’s budget helps President Obama. If Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, replaced Obama in the White House, along with a Republican Congress, the Ryan plan would become law. Romney has been a supporter of Ryan’s draconian budgets in the past and he remains so today.
But this places Romney in a bit of a pickle. He must carry older voters by a wide margin to offset Obama’s strength among young voters. He knows what, which is why he disingenuously attacks Obama for cutting Medicare spending as part of the Affordable Care Act. (While that’s technically true, Obama was simply removing wasteful subsidies to private insurers through the Medicare Advantage program. No senior’s coverage was adversely affected. Meanwhile, Romeny supports undoing Medicare altogether.)
Meddling with Medicare and Social Security is very unpopular among seniors, even conservative ones. That’s why the Affordable Care Act faced such strong, and often incoherent, opposition from some older voters, epitomized by the infamous phrase “get your government hands off my Medicare!”
Romney must staunchly support the Ryan budget to burnish his suspect conservative credentials among the Republican base. But that allows Democrats to attack Romney for supporting the budget’s unpopular measures.
That’s why the Democratic National Committee happily blasted out a press release on Sunday with the subject line “Paul Ryan: Mitt Romney Will Enact My Budget.”
“Don’t take it from us,” read the DNC press release, “the architect of the Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it said himself during an interview on Face the Nation that Mitt Romney would enact his extreme budget if he were elected President. That means turning Medicare into a voucher program, increasing health care costs to seniors by thousands of dollars, and making arbitrary cuts to programs essential to middle-class families—all while giving massive tax cuts to the wealthiest and protecting taxpayer subsidies to oil companies and hedge fund managers.”
The Obama campaign instantly started hitting Romney directly for supporting the Ryan budget. Speaking to retirees last week in South Florida—an area filled with seniors who are disproportionately likely to vote and who could determine the results in that large swing state—Vice President Joe Biden warned of what Republicans would do to Medicare. “We believe in strengthening Medicare, and they don’t,” Biden said. “We can make Medicare solvent again. We don’t have to gut it to make it last.”
Expect protecting Medicare to be Obama’s equivalent of President Clinton’s famous pledge to “Save Social Security First” this fall.