In two speeches over the last few days, Mitt Romney invoked Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon to attempt to burnish Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) credentials as a compromiser and a savior of Medicare. In one, Romney said his vice presidential pick “found a Democrat to co-lead a piece of legislation to make sure we can save Medicare.” In another, he brought up Wyden by name: “Paul Ryan and Senator Wyden said, ‘No, we need to restore, retain and protect Medicare… That’s what our party will do.”
Gov. Romney is talking nonsense. Bipartisanship requires that you not make up the facts. I did not ‘co-lead a piece of legislation.’ I wrote a policy paper on options for Medicare. Several months after the paper came out I spoke and voted against the Medicare provisions in the Ryan budget. Governor Romney needs to learn you don’t protect seniors by makings things up, and his comments today sure won’t help promote real bipartisanship.
The plan Sen. Wyden co-authored with Ryan does bear a striking resemblance to the proposed Medicare changes in Ryan’s latest budget for the House GOP. Both keep traditional Medicare as a kind of public option, in an exchange where it would compete with private plans offering insurance to seniors. The government would give seniors support for purchasing these plans, and that support would be benchmarked to the cost of the second-least expensive plan. The plans would also be prohibited from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions.
But there are also some key differences between Ryan and Wyden: For one thing, the Wyden-Ryan plan would cap the growth rate of this new version of Medicare at the growth of the economy plus one percent, while Ryan’s budget would cap it at economic growth plus 0.5 percent. And, as Wyden pointed out, their joint plan was a policy proposal — not a piece of actual, sponsored legislation. Paul Ryan himself has admitted the two plans are not the same thing.
More important, however, is understanding Wyden’s support for these Medicare reforms within the context of his stances on broader health care reform. Wyden voted for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act — the health reform bill that used a similar exchange structure to cover all Americans not already ensured by their employers, Medicare, or Medicaid. Before that, Wyden co-authored a bill with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) which would have extended the exchange-based coverage system to every American not in Medicare or in the military. Meanwhile, the latest House GOP budget — which Wyden pointedly refused to support — repeals the ACA, casting everyone who isn’t a senior back into the country’s prior dysfunctional system, with severe cuts to Medicaid to boot.
It is clear that Wyden supports these changes to Medicare as one part of a comprehensive system to provide every American with competitive and affordable health care. Ryan supports them as one opportunistic step in the GOP’s efforts to dismantle the social safety net.