Political Animal


December 09, 2011 2:00 PM Romney doubles down on Medicare privatization

By Steve Benen

Mitt Romney clearly didn’t want to endorse Paul Ryan’s radical budget plan, which includes a measure to end Medicare. But now that he’s losing, Romney apparently feels as if he doesn’t have any choice.

After months of avoiding taking a firm stand on Ryan’s privatization scheme — Medicare’s guaranteed benefit would be scrapped, replaced with vouchers — Romney is suddenly on board with the far-right agenda without leaving himself much in the way of wiggle room. This began in earnest yesterday, when the Romney campaign boasted, “Mitt Romney supports what Paul Ryan did. He endorsed what Paul Ryan did.”

The Romney camp then further embraced the Ryan plan overnight, unveiling a new video attacking Newt Gingrich for having criticized Medicare privatization. Today, Romney was even more explicit at an event in Iowa, responding to a voter’s question.

“I spent a good deal of time with Congressman Ryan. When his plan came out, I applauded it, as an important step,” he said. “We’re going to have to make changes like the ones Paul Ryan proposed.”

Romney added that by using “vouchers,” he intends to help “protect” Medicare.

Right about now, I suspect there are a lot of folks at the DNC and at Obama for America HQ who are smiling.

Remember, Romney didn’t want to go to this point. He’s been entirely aware of how radioactive Ryan’s Medicare scheme was — polls showed the American mainstream hates it — and the fact that it cost Republicans at least one congressional special election this year, and will be a major issue in 2012. When Romney was confident that he’d be the nominee, he was comfortable avoiding this issue.

But now he’s stuck. Romney apparently intends to use his support for the Ryan plan to get ahead in the GOP nominating race, despite the general-election risks, working under the assumption that there won’t be a general-election for him unless he goes to the hard-right now.

I made the case yesterday that this is a major campaign development. Jonathan Cohn goes a little further today, explaining why this “may prove to be a critical moment.”

All of this frames a pretty stark choice for the next election…. [A] vote for President Obama will be a vote to implement Obamacare and keep Medicare, while a vote for the Republican nominee, assuming it’s Gingrich or Romney, will be a vote to eliminate the former and at least begin dismantling the latter (along with Medicaid, most likely).

Or to put it a bit more simply, the choice in the next election will be for universal health care for people of all ages or universal health care for nobody.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • RepublicanPointOfView on December 09, 2011 2:04 PM:

    We are for option C:

    Universal Health Care for all deserving white people. We are just against wasting our tax dollars on the blacks and the browns.

  • c u n d gulag on December 09, 2011 2:06 PM:

    In November of 2012, the American Sheeple will have a clear choice of who they want as their leader.

    A shepherd?
    Or, a wolf?

    Why do I think this will be and easy choice for a lot of morons who'll take the wolf!

  • CDW on December 09, 2011 2:19 PM:

    Steve, there was an article in the NYT recently which reported that some Dems are starting to consider the merits of a voucher system. I do wish you would cover what dems are doing at least a little bit. I'm tired of hearing about the cons and you're just preaching to the choir as far as I can tell.

  • Josef K on December 09, 2011 2:20 PM:

    Given how Romney's flip-flopped on just about every topic and policy, "no wiggle room" seems a bit much to hope for.

  • Teemu on December 09, 2011 2:31 PM:

    I don't think you can call an endorser like governor John Sununu's, who isn't on the campaign's pay list, statements as the Romney campaign statements.

    I think he had the voluntary version of Paul Ryan plan on his web site for months already, and he is still planning to push for his own plan according to his web sites, it hasn't gone anywhere.

  • June on December 09, 2011 2:36 PM:

    Wake me when Romney has an original thought. I have a feeling I'll be needing to change my surname to "van Winkle."

  • Gummitch on December 09, 2011 2:38 PM:

    Does anyone outside the politically-obsessed even know who Paul Ryan is? Conservatives all think he hung the moon, but I find it difficult to believe that "independents" have ever heard of the joker.

  • square1 on December 09, 2011 2:42 PM:

    Yes, this does show that Romney is increasingly worried about winning the nomination and is tacking back right for the primaries. But a politician pandering to an ideological base during the primary season is fairly dog-bites-man as far as electoral politics goes.

    What is interesting is that it shows that the Democratic establishment has changed their perception of Romney's candidacy. Up until fairly recently, the establishment either believed that Romney was particularly dangerous in a general election or that he was vulnerable in a primary. Accordingly, you saw the administration give Romney a series of "death hugs" in order to portray him as too reasonable for GOP primary voters.

    Recently though the administration has shifted to try to portray Romney as more of an extremist. What is interesting is that the attacks by the White House likely make Romney MORE palatable to GOP primary voters (who obviously don't think that Ryan's plan is a bad thing).

    One of two things is true. Either the administration now views Romney as having effectively locked up the nomination and is moving to general election mode. Or they now view Romney as a less dangerous opponent and are actually trying to help him win the nomination (what is the opposite of a "death hug"? A "life punch"?)

  • Peter C on December 09, 2011 2:45 PM:

    It was an easy decision for Romney; what are we going to do, call him a flip-flopper when he denies it???

  • square1 on December 09, 2011 2:57 PM:

    @CDW: Aha! You are catching on.

    The Democratic establishment is (smartly) trying to portray this as a "stark choice" between two very different approaches to providing health care. In reality, the two sides are far closer than either wants to admit.

    For starters, Obama's ACA is basically a voucher program. What Ryan is proposing is to apply ACA to seniors and abolish it for everyone else.

    Now, some will rightly say, "But ACA only works as a voucher system because there is an individual mandate that allows the pool of insureds to include everybody, not just the elderly. You can't just throw seniors onto the open market and expect them to purchase insurance when they have pre-existing conditions and the insurance companies would charge them up the wazoo."

    That's fair enough to a point. The problem with that argument is that ACA already protects those with pre-existing conditions and caps how much insurers can discriminate on rates based upon age. In other words, under ACA, if Grandma had to buy insurance on the open market, ACA would already protect her.

    Can I imagine a Grand Health Care Bargain, in which Republicans agree to not try to repeal ACA and agree to expand the subsidies and protections for seniors and Democrats agree to dismantle Medicare and shift seniors to a private health care system under an expanded ACA framework? Yes. Yes, I can imagine that Grand Bargain.

    And, frankly, I see it as no more or less likely to occur under Romney or Obama.

  • Maritza on December 09, 2011 3:53 PM:

    I don't see President Obama framing the 2012 election as pitting Obamacare vs Medicare.

    I see President Obama framing the 2012 election as Romney wants to END Medicare as we know it with a voucher program in order to PAY FOR TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH.

    In other words, if you end the Bush tax cuts for the rich than you don't have to change Medicare into a voucher program which will essentially END Medicare because that money can be used to continue Medicare as we know it.

  • jeri on December 09, 2011 3:53 PM:

    A bit off topic, but can anyone explain to me why no one (at least that I have found) has picked up on Romney's plan to eliminate Medicare as an entitlement and instead to subject it to zero-based budgeting, so that Congress would have to decide each year how much to appropriate to cover the cost of vouchers? Heaven help you if they decide that the job creators need the help more than you do.

    How is this getting a pass?

  • Maritza on December 09, 2011 4:01 PM:

    Again the Obama team will make the 2012 election not about Obamacare & Medicare VS no Obamacare & Vouchercare.

    Instead it will be:

    Obama: Ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich in order to continue Medicare.

    Romney: Vouchercare in order to continue Bush tax cuts for the rich.

    VERY IMPORTANT: One of the reasons why the Democrat won the special election was that she SPECIFICALLY SAID that Ryan's plan was a plan that would END Medicare as we know it IN ORDER TO PAY FOR Bush tax cuts for the rich. That is incredibly powerful.

  • gp2221 on December 09, 2011 4:50 PM:

    Maybe the Republican base will find Romney more attractive if he starts implying Ryan could be his running mate. The conservative media (mainstream as well) has always treated Paul Ryan as though he's an intellectual heavyweight. So maybe they think they'll have a strong ticket to go up against Obama/Biden.

  • June on December 09, 2011 5:36 PM:

    Very interesting, @gp2221! Republicans are just delusional enough to do that.

  • Colleen C on December 09, 2011 6:44 PM:

    This entire thread is predicated on the assumption that because Romney took this position, he is locked in. What evidence is there to support this? Mr. 1% is the original shape-shifter, and I have no doubt that he will shamelessly employ whatever spin is required to shift again in the general election. The base doesn't like him anyway and he's betting that most true independents are even paying attention yet.

  • Doug on December 09, 2011 9:04 PM:

    Colleen C, if Romney wins the various Republican primaries by coming out in favor of various right-wing policies, he's going to be on record as doing so. That record will NOT help him in the Presidential campaign.
    The Republican base is not large enough to carry him into the WH, so he desperately needs "independent" voters. Many of those "independent" voters call themselves that only because they feel the Republican Party no longer represents them. Romney can ONLY win THOSE votes by tacking back towards the center, which will automatically cost him votes in the "base".
    Of course, he COULD just say "That was then, this is now" and he MIGHT get away with it, at least as long as enough voters don't ask themselves "OK, when will the next 'now' arrive and he changes his opinions AGAIN?"
    And if voters seem NOT to be asking that question, I expect the Democrats will take it upon themselves to remind them...