You’d have to be living under a rock to miss the news on Saturday morning that Mitt Romney has picked Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate. The announcement immediately kicked up a flurry of speculation: what does Ryan bring to the ticket that Romney wants? One thing he does not bring: women’s votes. Mitt Romney has been dogged by a problem with female voters, lagging in their support far behind President Obama, particularly among single women. But where Romney has been vague and flip-floppish on many issues, Ryan has long been very clear about his staunch support for policies that will hurt women economically.
Most people know Paul Ryan for his budget plans. There’s plenty of pain to be found in his budget for the lower and middle class, but women in particular make out poorly (literally) if his budget gets a presidential signature. Add in other policies he’s proposed or supported, and the picture becomes even bleaker. Here’s why:
1. Medicaid is crucial to women’s health. It provides coverage to nearly 19 million low-income women, meaning that they make up 70 percent of the program’s beneficiaries. Any slashing of Medicaid’s rolls will therefore fall heavily on their shoulders.
And Paul Ryan’s policies would do just that. Ryan’s budget slashes Medicaid by more than 20 percent over the next ten years and turns it into a block grant to states, letting them spend the money as they wish—as opposed to the current form, in which states have to follow certain rules in how the money is spent. The Urban Institute estimated that the block grant plan alone would lead states to drop 14–27 million people from Medicaid by 2021.
On top of that, Ryan’s budget repeals the Affordable Care Act, and with it the Medicaid expansion that some states are already threatening to refuse. Without that expansion, 17 million people will be left without Medicaid coverage. Women will again be hurt by this outcome: 13.5 million were expected to get health insurance coverage under the expansion by 2016. A Ryan budget would ensure they stay unprotected.
2. Social Security is another crucial safety net program that women disproportionately rely on. It is virtually the only source of income for about a third of female beneficiaries over 65. (Compare that to less than a quarter of men.) Without it, half of those women would live in poverty.
Ryan’s budgets haven’t called for specific cuts to the program, although his first version favorably cited the cuts proposed by the Simpson-Bowles report. But before he was known for chart-filled budgets, he put his name to a plan to partially privatize Social Security by having workers divert about half of their Social Security payroll-tax contribution to a private retirement account. Remember how well 401(k)s fared during the recent financial crisis when stocks took a nosedive? That could happen again—and the women who rely on Social Security benefits could be left without anything to fall back on.