Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is gearing up to unveil a new budget on Tuesday. Ryan indicated that his plan would balance the country’s budget in a decade. As with his other proposed budgets, this new plan would be no less controversial.
During the 2012 presidential election, the Obama campaign assailed Ryan’s previous budget plan because it turned the widely popular Medicare program into a voucher system. In defending his program, Ryan assured the voters that his plan would not gut the program. He went on to emphasize that the changes he advocated would not affect anyone above the age of 55. This pledge has been broken in his new plan. By continuing to propose turning Medicare into a voucher program and by increasing the age of eligibility from his previous plan, Ryan once again seeks to balance the budget on the proverbial back of average Americans.
The 47% remarks by Romney helped cement his reputation as an out-of-touch plutocrat in the eyes of a large segment of the populace. But the sentiments behind the comments are shared by many conservatives, and particularly by Paul Ryan. Years before those comments were made by Romney, Ryan characterized programs like Social Security and Medicare as a "socialist-based system." In 2011, he shared his worries with a group of conservatives that America would soon become a nation of moochers. While he was giving a speech at an event sponsored by the American Spectator, he stated "we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers not makers."
Seeing his proposed budget through the prism of makers vs. takers, it is not surprising that he continues to seek to "voucherize" the program. Currently, the program covers most of the medical benefits of enrollees. But Ryan’s new plan would still change the "program as we know it." The plan would no longer guarantee benefits for those who are under 56. Simply put, those who are now 56 would pay more out of pocket for their care when they get to enroll in the Medicare program.
The Medicare program enjoys strong popular support. Thus, the public would strongly oppose the changes that Ryan would be trying to implement. Support for Medicare among seniors is stronger than any other groups. Because they tend to vote at a higher percentage than younger Americans, their voices carry a lot of weight in the political process.
To appeal to those voters during the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney and running mate Ryan kept repeating the debunked claims that President Obama gutted Medicare to fund the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Ryan had to rely on this false claim in order to divert the attention of voters, particularly seniors, away from what his budget proposals would have done to Medicare.
Although the Republican ticket lost the 2012 presidential election decisively, they won among older voters. The election results were a wake-up call for the party because it showed that the Republican base is shrinking, and a large segment of that shrinking base is made up of older voters. Many Republicans are well aware of that reality. Hence, it is not surprising that some Republican lawmakers have been unhappy about Ryan plans to raise age eligibility for Medicare. Those Republicans know that a backlash against the party among older voters as a result of Ryan’s proposals could put their seats in jeopardy.
By including the same unpopular proposals in his new budget, Ryan seems to have missed the message of the 2012 election. Instead of crafting a budget that has some appeal to those voters that rejected Romney and him during the 2012 presidential election, Ryan has chosen to target cuts at those voters who have been an integral part of the dwindling Republican base. This move would make it even harder for Republicans to win national elections.
It has been said that Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The continued proposals to turn Medicare into a voucher by Ryan are the strongest evidence yet that the leaders of the party might have been bitten by this insanity bug.