House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) Medicare plan really isn't popular. The proposal, which involves scrapping the existing system and replacing it with a voucher scheme, has been rejected repeatedly by American voters, and for good reason -- it's an awful idea.
But Ryan doesn't care. Even after Republican losses last year, and despite his own defeat in his bid for national office, the right-wing congressman is still pushing his wildly unpopular Medicare plan, despite the fact that the American mainstream, the Senate majority, and even some of his own Republican colleagues don't want it.
But there he was on Fox News yesterday, telling Chris Wallace his voucher plan isn't a voucher plan.
"[I]t's not a voucher. It's premium support. Those are very different. A voucher is you go to your mailbox, you get a check and you go buy something. That's not what we are saying."
Look, I realize the semantics debate can get tiresome, and some Republican pollster no doubt told Ryan that "voucher" didn't test well with focus groups.
But under the Wisconsinite's plan, seniors would no longer receive a guaranteed Medicare benefit. Instead, they would enter the private marketplace with a government subsidy.
Most people refer to that subsidy as a voucher. Heck, Paul Ryan himself used to refer to the subsidy as a voucher before the pollsters told him not to. And as the debate gets underway once more, the far-right congressman now wants to change the terms of the debate? There's no reason for anyone to play along.
Ryan added in the same interview, "I would argue against your premise that we lost this issue during the campaign: We won the senior vote."
I've never fully understood why so many people in media consider Ryan to be one of Washington's sharper minds, and with comments like these, it's even more difficult.
Ryan doesn't want to believe Republicans lost the Medicare debate, and points to older voters backing the GOP ticket in 2012, but he's relying on the wrong metric. Even if the lawmaker wants to set aside the results of the actual election -- Obama/Biden won by 5 million votes -- the polling evidence is overwhelming. Americans of every age group trust Democrats over Republicans on Medicare, and Americans of every age group reject Ryan's privatization scheme.
We can debate whether or not Ryan is a wonk when it comes to numbers -- I tend to think reports of his genius have been greatly exaggerated -- but one need not be an expert to see the poll numbers written on the wall. By pushing a plan to end Medicare again, Ryan is doing Democrats a favor.
Ryan concluded that his scheme is necessary because Medicare "is going broke." I'll concede that the Medicare program, in the future, faces real fiscal challenges, and if policymakers chose to take steps to address those challenges responsibly, the system would benefit. After all, looking ahead, the root of the nation's fiscal troubles is health care spending.
But Ryan's vouchers don't help. Indeed, they don't even try to help. The Republican's plan is about shifting the burden of rising costs to seniors directly -- give them a voucher, wish them well, and hope that things work out for them among private insurers. If the costs climb faster than the value of the voucher? Too bad, the elderly just have to receive less care.
But think of all the money they'll save when they start self-rationing to meet their medical needs!