Commentary: Paul Ryan's Medicare plans

The Rock Hill HeraldAugust 25, 2012 

Grab ahold of the wheelchair, Granny. You’re going over the cliff!

That was the Obama camp’s response after Mitt Romney announced his running mate.

Democrats immediately took aim at Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. As author of the so-called Ryan Plan, the 42-year-old chairman of the House Budget Committee has been a favorite target of Democrats, who accuse him of wanting to balance the budget on the backs of senior citizens.

Given that a recent AARP shows that 90 percent of baby boomer voters between ages 50 and 64 say that Social Security and Medicare should be strengthened, going on the offensive against Ryan is a no-brainer for the Obama campaign

If the relatively unknown Ryan, a tea party rock star, is knocked out of the box early, President Barack Obama’s chances for a second term will be strengthened.

Vice presidential candidates historically haven’t made a big difference. At best, the right candidate helps deliver his home state and perhaps a block of states that otherwise wouldn’t cotton to the guy at the top of the ticket. Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kenney’s running mate, may be the best example of that in modern times.

At worst, the politician occupying second chair poses a distraction – or a detriment – to the campaign. Sarah Palin comes to mind.

For sure, Ryan won’t be so easy for Tina Fey to spoof. Whether his appeal to the more raucous, libertarian-leaning right-wingers will work in Romney’s favor is unclear at this point. Those folks have been lukewarm in their support for the former Massachusetts governor, and Ryan could energize them.

Nevertheless, Mitt’s VP choice had Democrats licking their chops. They think his plan for cutting entitlement programs will drive many undecided older voters into Obama’s lap.

Among other proposals, Ryan wants to replace traditional Medicare by issuing vouchers to reimburse people who buy their own health insurance. This would affect people now 55 or younger.

In general, the Ryan budget, which has been adopted by the House, would cut social programs severely while reducing taxes for wealthier Americans, increase defense spending and hold the deficit to a percentage of the GDP.

Many experts don’t think his numbers add up.

Democrats, on the other hand, don’t want to touch entitlement programs. To them, the only answer is to raise taxes on their wealthiest countrymen.

Unfortunately, both parties are frittering away time, energy and vast sums on this election without engaging in meaningful discussion of the biggest problems facing this country.

Critical issues that have not received – and probably won’t receive – their due during this campaign are too numerous to list: global warming, the European economy, instability in the Muslim world, the need for clean energy, military spending, the obesity crisis … Take your pick.

None of these issues looms larger or more ominously than that of aging. Every week, another 65,000 Americans become Social Security- and Medicare-eligible.

It’s estimated that the Social Security trust fund will be able to pay full benefits only through 2036.

Medicare Part A, which covers hospitalization, is fully funded only through 2024, at which point it will be able to pay 90 percent of benefits until 2045, when it will be able to afford to cover only 75 percent of the tab.

The number of Americans 65 or older is expected to grow by nearly 80 percent between 2010 and 2030, while workers whose taxes must pay for their entitlements are projected to grow by only seven percent.

Solutions not being discussed by Congress or the men who want to be our next president include:

• Raising the retirement age;

• Increasing contributions from workers and employers;

• Raising or eliminating the cap on taxable wages or

• Limiting benefits for higher-income recipients.

Ideally, a combination of those reforms would ensure the viability of both Social Security and Medicare indefinitely, and do it equitably.

If nothing else can elevate the presidential campaign to significance, perhaps this thought can help:

In a recent Wells Fargo survey of middle-class Americans, the median age at which people said they could afford to retire was 80.

That’s two years past the median life expectancy.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service