Rep. Paul Ryan disproved a 50-year-old political rule by speaking the truth. The Wisconsin Republican showed a party can touch the “third rail of politics” — entitlement programs for seniors — and survive. Choosing Mr. Ryan as his running mate reveals Mitt Romney’s own courage to face down Democratic scaremongering for the sake of America’s future.
On Monday, Mr. Romney said his vice-presidential candidate has “come up with ideas that are very different than the president’s. The president’s idea, for instance for Medicare, was to cut it by $700 billion. That’s not the right answer. We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare.”
Medicare will go bankrupt in 12 years, according to the program’s own trustees, and has become the largest driver of our $16 trillion debt. President Obama hasn’t done a single concrete thing to prevent these outcomes.
Politicians cower from these issues because seniors flip out at the mere mention of their entitlement programs changing. President George W. Bush’s ill-fated attempt to allow younger people to put their money into private retirement funds instead of the mandatory Social Security program warned both sides against putting their hands back on that red-hot burner.
However, starting with his first blueprint as budget committee chairman in spring 2011, Mr. Ryan took the behemoth health care program head-on. He proposed giving vouchers to seniors to pick from better, private insurance companies instead of being stuck in the government-run Medicare system. The program would start in 2023 to bring free-market competition into Medicare so prices could go down while quality improved.
House Republicans led a communications rollout intended to soft-pedal the proposal to seniors. The words “privatize” and “vouchers” were eliminated from the GOP vernacular, replaced by the less scary sounding “premium support plan.” Republicans repeated until they were blue in the face that no one older than 55 — “at or near retirement” — would be affected.
It would have been a win-win if not for House Democrats launching the biggest “Mediscare” onslaught in history, immediately running attack ads in 25 targeted districts, including Mr. Ryan’s. One advertisement claimed each congressman “voted to end Medicare, forcing seniors to pay $12,500 for private health insurance, without guaranteed coverage.”
This wasn’t true, but by 2012, Mr. Ryan had adjusted his plan to allow seniors the option to stay in the current fee-for-service Medicare program. Still, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the plan would “undermine one of the pillars of security for America’s seniors ” and “end Medicare as we know it.”
Despite the risk, Mr. Romney accepted the Ryan health care plan whole cloth as his own and was praised by conservatives for doing so. Seniors’ protests about entitlement reform are more muted as they are forced to consider how their intransigence would leave their children and grandchildren without any benefits and a nation at the brink of fiscal disaster. Mr. Ryan’s brave leadership on Medicare reform and debt reduction rightly earned him the place as Mr. Romney’s vice-presidential pick.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.