Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are turning the GOP’s greatest political liability — a proposal to drastically restructure Medicare for seniors — into a sharp attack against President Obama, despite Republican efforts to cut more than a trillion from the program.
“There’s only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare,” Romney said during the ticket’s first interview together on CBS, honing in on a charge the pair has reiterated at every campaign stop since the two Republicans joined forces on Saturday:
“What Paul Ryan and I have talked about is saving Medicare, is providing people greater choice in Medicare, making sure it’s there for current seniors. No changes, by the way, for current seniors, or those nearing retirement. But looking for young people down the road and saying, “We’re going to give you a bigger choice.” In America, the nature of this country has been giving people more freedom, more choices. That’s how we make Medicare work down the road.”
The $716 billion figure comes from the Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimate of the Republican proposal to repeal the law, though the office doesn’t back up the charge that Obama stole the money from the current Medicare budget. Rather, the savings slow the growth of Medicare over the next decade: eliminate overpayments to private insurers, reform provider payments to encourage greater efficiency, tie reimbursements to improvements in economic productivity, and reduce fraud and abuse.
As a result, “growth in spending will be restrained” and the life of the Medicare trust fund is expanded by eight years, the government estimates. Sixteen million seniors are also benefiting from the savings by receiving preventive benefits without deductibles or co-pays and saving more than $3.9 billion on prescription drugs.
The Ryan-backed GOP budet maintains these cuts, but rather than using them to improve the Medicare program, it applies the savings to pay for massive tax cuts. As the budget chairman himself admitted during an April 5, 2011 speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), “We retain the Medicare savings” — and that’s not all. The Republican blueprint transforms the existing Medicare benefit guarantee into a premium support program that would provide seniors with depreciating vouchers to buy insurance from private plans.
The plan essentially institutes cuts on top of the $716 billion reduction. Total federal spending on Social Security, interest, and health care would plunge to 16 percent of GDP by 2050 under Ryan’s budget — “the lowest level since 1950, when Medicare, Medicaid, most federal funding for education, highways, and environmental protection, and various other significant federal activities did not exist,” Congressional Budget Office data indicates. And federal spending per Medicare beneficiary would decrease “by 35 to 42 percent in 2050.”
Romney’s proposal — which is short on details and does not outline cuts to specific programs — is even more extreme. While Ryan would “cut entitlement and discretionary programs (outside of core defense and net interest) by $5.2 trillion over ten years,” the Romney proposal would reduce spending “by between $7.0 trillion and $9.6 trillion.” To meet this goal, “Medicare would be cut by $185 billion in 2016 and $2.0 trillion from 2014 through 2022,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates, leading to “large increases in premiums and cost-sharing charges” for beneficiaries.
So if Romney thinks that Obama “robbed Medicare,” then he and Ryan prepared to bleed it dry entirely.