Monday, October 3, 2011

Ryan's Medicare plan poses real problem for Wisconsin GOP Senate candidates

Paul Ryan opted out of running for Herb Kohl's Senate seat next year. But he left a little something behind. His Medicare plan -- to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a type of voucher plan that would cost seniors more -- is very much going to be a part of the 2012 Senate race in Wisconsin.

The problem for GOP candidates, who are fighting in the primary to win the party's conservative base, is that while Republican voters tend to like Ryan's plan, most other voters don't. It will take some careful positioning to finesse the problem Ryan has created for them.

Craig Gilbert .in the Journal Sentinel:
Here’s a brief look at what two Republican Senate hopefuls – declared candidate Mark Neumann and all-but-official candidate Tommy Thompson – are saying on this subject at the very outset of the race.  
Medicare is “driving us into bankruptcy,” Thompson said in a recent interview with the Journal Sentinel. The former governor and health secretary says “Paul Ryan is on the right track,” but stops short of fully endorsing the Ryan plan, which would end the guaranteed Medicare benefit for future beneficiaries (people now under 55) and replace it with a lump sum payment to help them buy private insurance. Thompson hasn’t put out his own Medicare plan yet (he’s not a declared candidate). 
But he says he would so some things differently than Ryan. He says people now under 55 should be given a choice when they reach eligibility. They could choose private insurance with a government subsidy (as Ryan is proposing). Or they could remain in the current Medicare system, but with higher-out-of-pocket costs than seniors pay now because the system “is going broke.”
He calls his approach “Ryan Plan Plus.”  
“Medicare is going broke, which will result in dramatically higher out-of-pocket costs for services. People will choose the private insurance option. A market-based solution like this will win out over government-run health care, which I’ve always opposed,” he said. That sounds like Thompson is endorsing Ryan’s shift to a much more privatized Medicare system for future retirees, without formally ending traditional Medicare.  
Neumann, businessman and former congressman, said he’ll produce a broad fiscal plan that addresses Medicare later in the campaign. Like Thompson, he says he’s supportive of Ryan but will offer his own set of policies. “We will be using parts of Paul’s plan … including on Medicare, but it may be different in some respects,” said Neumann.  
Though Neumann is running full-bore against government spending and deficits, he comes across as more guarded on the subject of Medicare than Thompson does. He emphasizes the need to look at other entitlements besides Medicare and Social Security, such as Medicaid. He says he agrees with Ryan’s argument that current Medicare policies are fiscally unsustainable in future decades. But Neumann says his campaign will focus more on the immediate and near-term budget crisis, because if that isn’t solved, “our long-term problem problems don’t make any difference.” 
We’ll have to wait for his plan, but he did little in the interview to signal that big Medicare changes will be a prominent feature of his campaign.
Of course, Neumann doesn't need to prove his conservative bona fides. It's former governor Tommy T who's getting flak about being too liberal for 21st Century Republicanism.

Maybe to prove himself Tommy will come out to the right of Neumann on Medicare and Social Security. But that could kill him in November.

This little dance could be fun for Democrats to watch.

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