Democrats are downright giddy over Republican Mitt Romney’s selection of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan to be his vice presidential running mate. President Obama and his party’s leadership and campaign officials are reacting like starving lions that have been thrown some choice red meat.
The GOP, on the other hand, believes Ryan’s selection is a great complement to Romney, who needed some solid conservative credentials. The Associated Press reported Monday that the tea party movement, for example, considers Ryan, R-Wis, as one of its ideological heroes.
Most Americans knew little about Ryan until his federal budget passed the House earlier this year. However, Romney’s decision has put the spending plan in the national spotlight.
Proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the two federal health care programs, were key parts of Ryan’s budget that passed the House in March by a 228-191 vote. The Ryan budget was dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats are in the majority, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Congress holds the key to passage of any federal budget, but it hasn’t happened because the two parties are at a standoff. Voters will determine whether the deadlock can be broken on Nov. 6 when they decide the makeup of the next Congress.
Meanwhile, no one was surprised when Democrats pounced on Ryan’s budget. They know Medicare and Medicaid are cherished by the elderly and low-income Americans who benefit from those programs. Both are great campaign fodder.
However, there are bigger and more important issues, like what do we do about our rapidly growing $15 trillion national debt and our annual $1 billion deficits? We are already up to our eyeballs in debt to China.
It’s difficult to cut spending and reduce debt when so much of the budget goes for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Projections indicate that Medicare’s trust fund is going to run out of money in 2024. Social Security is also in trouble, but that isn’t an issue at the moment.
Ryan’s budget plan would offer two Medicare health choices — join a private insurance plan with financial help from the government or choose traditional Medicare. The changes wouldn’t become effective until 2023, which exempts those currently 55 and older.
Ryan would turn Medicaid for lower-income citizens over to the states. It is now a federal-state program. The federal Medicaid budget would be cut by $750 billion over a 10-year period. That would mean more state support, higher co-payments or reduced benefits.
Ten GOP House members voted against Ryan’s budget in March, but not because it endangered those programs. Most thought the cuts didn’t go far enough to reduce the debt and curb national spending. Louisiana’s Republican House members voted for the budget, and praised Romney’s selection of Ryan.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said, “Paul Ryan is one of the smartest people I know in Washington, and his bold plan to save Medicare from bankruptcy and control runaway Washington spending is the only serious budget passed by either chamber of Congress in years.”
Romney supports Ryan’s goals, but he made it clear in a “60 Minutes” interview that his budget would decide where the country is headed if he wins the election.
You can be sure congressmen on both sides of the aisle are going to be cautious about any changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Here is what U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who represents this area, said in a recent report he mailed to constituents:
“The challenges facing Social Security and Medicare are real and must be addressed to ensure Louisiana seniors can continue to depend on the benefits they have earned,” Boustany said. “I am committed to strengthening these programs and making sure they continue to serve today’s retirees and that future retirees can count on them as well.”
Getting the message out won’t be easy, but it’s possible. First off, persons 55 and older have to realize they wouldn’t be affected under the proposed changes to Medicare. And which is better, improve it or lose it?
Republicans won the House in 2010, thanks to national opposition to President Obama’s health care reform bill. Voters were particularly upset about the president’s $700 billion cut to Medicare to help pay for reform.
Democrats will use the GOP Medicare plan to continue their fierce attacks up to Election Day. They are saying Romney and Ryan would end Medicare as we know it, return the country to the George W. Bush days, punish the middle class, give Obama victories in the swing states and lower the standard of living for people on Medicare.
Those claims make great sound bites, but are far from reality. It will be up to the Romney-Ryan team to separate fact from fiction.
One thing is clear: The presidential campaign that has been characterized by personal attacks and unimportant issues now has a new sense of purpose, and that is good for the country’s future. Each of us gets to decide whether we stay on the same road for the next four years or travel in a new direction.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].