- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

No domestic issue, other than jobs and the economy, fuels more worry from America’s voters than the $5-trillion-plus debt President Obama has run up over the past four years.

No president has spent as much as Mr. Obama has or has had higher budget deficits or has wasted more of our tax dollars. He’s put America on a perilous fiscal course that threatens to impoverish our economy and engulf all of us in ruinous debt for generations to come.

That’s why Mitt Romney, in deciding who would be the best vice-presidential running mate, chose Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the penny-pinching chairman of the House Budget Committee, who has made America’s economic health the central cause of his political career.

With that one singular decision, Mr. Romney placed Mr. Obama’s irresponsible and out-of-control spending binge at the center of the coming campaign debate.

In a government that hungers for leadership, Mr. Ryan for the past four years has been decrying the unsustainable fiscal course we are on — now teetering on the edge of a black hole of annual trillion-dollar budget deficits and crushing debts that are larger than our entire economy.

Impressed with Mr. Ryan’s leadership abilities, Republicans bypassed more senior members and put him in charge of the powerful budget panel that is responsible for shaping the nation’s chief financial document.

Mr. Romney could have named safer running mates from a list of governors, but in picking Mr. Ryan, he chose a man who knows how to work across the aisle without abandoning his party’s principles or his country’s.

Mr. Obama thinks he will be able to demonize Mr. Ryan because of his plan to reform Medicare by making its cost structure sustainable for generations to come.

“His plan would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors,” Mr. Obama said in a statement Saturday.

Like a lot of attacks Mr. Obama has leveled at Mr. Romney, this one is untrue, but you can expect the attacks to get even more vicious in the weeks to come. The Washington Post cites one Democratic ad that depicts Mr. Ryan “as physically pushing a senior citizen in a wheelchair off a cliff.”

In fact, Mr. Ryan has been collaborating on his plan with a lifelong liberal Democrat from Oregon, Sen. Ron Wyden. Their plan would turn Medicare into a premium-support system for financing Medicare. You won’t hear Mr. Obama mentioning Mr. Wyden’s role in the GOP plan.

Nor does Mr. Obama mention that he will pay for Obamacare by looting the Medicare budget of hundreds of billions of dollars, leaving it more insolvent than ever.

Would Mr. Ryan really destroy Medicare, as Mr. Obama and the Democrats say? The answer is an unequivocal no.

Under the Ryan-Wyden plan, “all Medicare beneficiaries would be guaranteed the level of benefits” now offered in traditional Medicare, says a new study of the proposal by Heritage Foundation health care analysts Bob Moffit and Rea Hederman.

Gone under their plan would be the waste-ridden price-control system that vastly overprices medical care costs, pushing Medicare spending through the roof. In its place would be a premium-support system not unlike the health care plans retirees purchase now.

The program would provide “higher payment to plans that have a higher number of high-risk and sicker patients.” But it “would also provide lower taxpayer subsidies to high-income beneficiaries by requiring these beneficiaries to pay higher premiums,” Heritage’s latest analysis says.

Finally, the Ryan-Wyden plan “would put Medicare on a budget, just like other government programs.” Its medical costs no longer would be on automatic pilot, pushing costs upward at an unsustainable rate that threatens its viability.

Spending would be indexed to the economy’s growth (GDP plus 1 percent). If it exceeds those levels, Congress could institute measures to slow its spending growth.

This is still a work in progress, and at present it would not be implemented until 2022. It no doubt will undergo further changes as it travels through the lawmaking process, but all those now in Medicare or nearing eligibility for it will be untouched by the Ryan-Wyden plan.

Can Mr. Obama make this the central issue of the campaign and thus frighten voters into supporting him? That will be tough to do when voters have more pressing fears, such as finding a job, making ends meet and paying Mr. Obama’s rising gas prices.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan intend to make their campaign about Mr. Obama’s weak, job-starved, slow-growth economy and a four-year spending binge that threatens to suffocate our future prosperity.

With 23 million unemployed or underemployed workers looking for full-time jobs, millions of businesses struggling to survive and poverty rates nearing another record high, the Republican ticket will have plenty to talk about on the stump.

As for Medicare’s sustainability crisis, Mr. Obama has made no effort to save it even though its problems worry many seniors and those who soon will join its rolls. A Democratic poll conducted by Democracy Corps found that when the Ryan plan was portrayed as “saving Medicare,” voters in Democrat-leaning battleground districts supported it by a margin of 52 percent to 37 percent.

Still, fear can be a very effective political weapon, and no one knows how to play the demagoguery and demonizing game better than the Obama campaign.

But maybe this time, voters have much bigger fears that will trump Mr. Obama’s Mediscare tactics. Like how can I find a job that will pay enough to feed my kids? Or how will I be able to meet my payroll this week to keep my workers and my business going when so many consumers are cutting back on their spending?

Mr. Obama doesn’t want to talk about any of this because he has failed to provide the jobs and the growing economy he promised us in 2008.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan will be reminding Americans of his economic failures day after day between now and Nov. 6.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.