Romney-Ryan Ticket Puts Entitlement Crisis at Center of Campaign

On the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk harbor, a coatless Mitt Romney named a tieless Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee.

Romney’s choice was not much of a surprise after he told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Thursday that he wanted someone with a “vision for the country, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean, I happen to believe this is a defining election for America, that we’re going to be voting for what kind of America we’re going to have.”

This arguably describes some of the others mentioned as possible nominees, but it clearly fits Ryan.

He doesn’t fit some of the standard criteria for vice president. He hasn’t won a statewide election, held an executive position or become well-known nationally or even in much of Wisconsin.

But more than anyone else, more even (as impolite as it is to say) than the putative presidential nominee, Ryan has set the course for the Republican Party for the past three years, both on policy and in politics. From his post as chairman of the House Budget Committee, he has made himself not just a plausible national nominee but a formidable one by advancing and arguing for major changes in entitlement policy.

He has argued consistently that entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — are on an unsustainable trajectory. Left alone, they threaten to crowd out necessary government spending and throttle the private sector.

Few public policy experts, on the center-left as well as the right, disagree. But many politicians, certainly those in the Obama White House, shy away from confronting the entitlement crisis. Better to demagogue your way through one more election cycle and kick the can down the road.

What’s astonishing is that Ryan has persuaded his fellow Republicans to follow his lead. Almost all House and Senate Republicans have voted for his budget resolutions. And they have included his proposal to change Medicare, for those currently younger than 55, from the current fee-for-service system to premium support, in which recipients would choose from an array of insurers, with subsidies to low earners.

Republicans rallied to the Ryan plan during the nomination contest. Newt Gingrich was lambasted for calling Ryan’s budget right-wing social engineering, while Romney over time moved to embrace the basic elements of Ryan’s budget and Medicare reforms.

Ryan campaigned enthusiastically for Romney in the Wisconsin primary, and there was clearly a rapport between these two number crunchers. Romney would defer to Ryan to answer and has made a point of staying in touch with him after clinching the nomination.

As a number cruncher, Romney surely recognizes that Ryan knows federal budget policy about as well as anyone. And the sometimes politically tone-deaf Romney must admire Ryan’s ability, honed in hundreds of town meetings in his marginal congressional district, to explain his stances in a way that wins over ordinary voters.

Naturally, Democrats have attacked the Ryan plan as gutting Medicare and have produced an ad showing Ryan shoving a wheelchair-bound granny down a hill. They’re licking their chops at the prospect of running a Mediscare campaign against the Romney-Ryan ticket.

But it’s not clear that the Mediscare tactic will work when the issue gains great visibility, as it will from Ryan’s selection.

For Ryan and Romney can make the point — lost in the shuffle when this is a low-visibility issue — that their plan would leave the current Medicare system in place for current recipients and those who are 55 or older. Those who have made plans based on the present program could continue to rely on it.

But they also can make the point that their reforms are necessary in order to make sure Medicare is sustainable in the long run. Polls show that many voters younger than 55 doubt that they ever will get the Medicare and Social Security benefits they’ve been promised.

One more thing about Ryan, I think, appealed to Romney. He already has shown he cannot be intimidated by the most eminent opponent. Watch the video of Ryan’s five-minute evisceration of Obamacare at the president’s Blair House meeting. You can tell that Obama didn’t like it one bit.

He’d better get used to it. Obama’s side is relying on trash-talking ads. Romney’s selection of Ryan shows he wants a debate on whether America should follow Obama on the road to a European-style welfare state.

Author Bio:

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
Author website: http://www.bernardgoldberg.com
  • DanB_Tiffin

    debts of our government: try www dot usdebtclock dot org and look at the bottom row. See unfunded entitlements?  Whatever you want to call it and no matter how much it hurts your feelings, it is impossible to pay. Be ready!

  • Parker

    “Naturally, Democrats have attacked the Ryan plan as gutting Medicare and have produced an ad showing Ryan shoving a wheelchair-bound granny down a hill. ”

    And what kind of “panel” did the Republicans refer to as who will decide your fate as part of the Affordable Heatlhcare Act? So, both sides attack the other. Don’t agree with it but why always call out one side for it and not the other?

    • GlenFS

      What, you don’t care for “death” panel?  It surely grabs the attention more than say “life’ panel.  I suppose you don’t care for “death” tax either?  As long as the label fits the activity it’s fair game to me.

      • Parker

        And how will cutting Medicare help the elderly? I guess the attack ad fits according to your guidelines.

        • GlenFS

          Being attacked by Democrats in an election year as a threat to those who depend on Medicare does not make you an actual threat.  That would be Obama himself, the only politician to have actually cut Medicare to help fund Obamacare (half a Trillion $). 

          The biggest threat to the elderly is Medicare insolvency, and Ryan has the knowledge and guts to talk about what needs to be done to save it.  But of course, Democrats would rather try to assure their own political futures than Granny’s.

  • Bruce A.

    Those of us who work pay into Social Security & Medicare.  We are entitled to get a return on this investment.