Stage Two, Phase Out: After eliminating traditional Medicare, the Ryan Plan then begins to gradually phase out the Medicare program. Because Ryan vouchers do not grow in value each year at a rate that keeps up with the rising cost of health care, they effectively lose value every single year. According to the CBO, “[b]y 2080, Medicare would be cut 76 percent below its projected size under current policies.” In other words, a child born in 2015 would receive less than one-quarter of the Medicare resources that today’s seniors enjoy when that child became eligible for Medicare. And that child’s Ryan vouchers would continue to lose value during each year of their retirement.
To quote the conservative Wall Street Journal, in an April 4, 2011 editorial: “The budget has been prepared by Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and the new chairman of the House Budget Committee … would essentially end Medicare, which now pays most of the health-care bills for 48 million elderly and disabled Americans.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/4/11]
Defense #3: Ryan had bipartisan support for his Medicare reforms.
Here, Republicans cite Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, who for a time, worked with Ryan to craft a bipartisan alternative to the politically toxic “roadmap” (both its harsh original version, and a later, slightly less draconian one.) Wyden’s efforts were considered self-serving by most Senate Democrats (he was up for re-election in 2010 at the time), and never went anywhere, having garnered exactly zero support from the Senate’s Democratic majority, or anyone else on Capitol Hill, other than Republicans eager to soften Ryan’s image and push back on Democratic lambasting of Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan.
Which leads us to the fourth, and final defense Republicans have put forward to spare themselves the wrath of seniors over the now-Romney-endorsed voucherization of Medicare:
Defense #4: Nobody over age 55 would have to worry about it anyway.
Here, I think, Republicans are engaging in what you might call “age warfare” — attempting to pit current seniors against future ones. Perhaps it’s a measure of how deeply Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness has seeped into the GOP psyche, that they believe present-day seniors are only out for themselves, and will gladly consent to gutting the Medicare safety net for their children and grandchildren, so long as they get theirs. Polls, it turns out, haven’t read “Atlas Shrugged.” Strong majorities of seniors have consistently opposed turning Medicare into a voucher plan.
In 2011, opposition ranged from 65 percent to 84 percent — the latter when pollsters pointed out that the coupons’ value don’t keep up with inflation. And a Kaiser Family Foundation poll last spring found opposition among seniors in the 60-plus percent territory, too. Republicans seem to be banking on Ryan’s youth, charisma and general pleasantness to make Medicare vouchers more palatable. but there’s no empirical evidence that even the nicest messenger can convince a majority of Americans to trade in the popular Medicare program for a handful of coupons.
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.