We thought that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s attempt to reform Medicare had struck a fatal blow against the “Third Rail” mentality in Washington — that cultural defect whereby politicians run in terror from anything new and innovative, no matter how necessary it is.
Unfortunately, we are being proven wrong — not by voters, and not by Democrats’ “Mediscare” tactics, but by Republicans who are going wobbly and distancing themselves from Ryan in search of a political advantage. Given the dire need for Medicare reform, these Republicans are imperiling the nation’s future, to say nothing of the GOP’s political fortunes.
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich provided the first soundbite for Democrats’ 2012 ads when he denounced Ryan’s plan as “radical” and “right-wing social engineering.” From the opposite end of the spectrum, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., criticized Ryan’s plan for spending too much, even though it may be Medicare’s only hope for long-term sustainability. Then came Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., a rising moderate star in the GOP. Brown wrote in a Politico op-ed that he will vote “no” on Ryan’s plan, and instead wants a plan that “[protects] those who have been counting on the current system their entire adult lives” and that gradually phases in changes “to give our future seniors enough years to adjust to the ‘new normal.’”
Of the three men’s criticisms, Brown’s are the most disappointing. They sound less like genuine objections than they do like excuses for a “no” vote that Brown believes to be politically expedient. Ryan’s plan does everything Brown demands: It gives the next generation of retirees a decade to prepare for changes. It also protects senior citizens from grave threats buried in the current system. Last Friday’s report from Medicare’s actuary shows that doctors are refusing to see Medicare patients because of the program’s low reimbursement rates, which are about to be cut again in 2012. Ryan’s is the only plan on the table that eliminates this threat, while simultaneously preventing the program’s insolvency. It raises doctor reimbursements for those currently on Medicare, and then establishes a system for future retirees with sustainable promises that will attract doctors rather than driving them away.
If Republicans want to lose the presidential election and return to the minority in both houses of Congress, they can follow the example of Gingrich, Paul and Brown. When an innovative idea is proposed, use it for your political advantage. First, attack it, preferably with a circular firing squad. Then run away and distance yourself from it. Then go out for drinks on Capitol Hill and ask your colleagues why nothing ever gets fixed in Washington.