Paul Ryan Cites The Wrong ‘Senior Vote’ To Defend His Medicare Scheme

With the release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) latest budget for the House GOP, a number of commentators are asking why the plan resurrects the idea of privatizing and imposing premium support on Medicare, even after the GOP just lost a presidential election in which that very proposal was a major sticking point.

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd brought up the matter Tuesday morning with Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT), and none other than Fox News’ Chris Wallace put the question to Ryan himself this past Sunday. Ryan’s response was basically that while he and Mitt Romney lost the general vote, they won the vote that actually matters:

CHRIS WALLACE: Now, you know, I don’t have to tell you, this was a big issue in the campaign, between Romney-Ryan versus Obama-Biden. They think they won and they think that’s one of the reasons they won. And there are, Congressman, a lot of independent strategists that say if you put this into effect, the net effect economists will be that seniors will end up having to pay more a share of their health care costs.

PAUL RYAN: Well, first of all, it’s not a voucher. It’s premium support. Those are very different. […]

And I would argue against your premise that we lost this issue in the campaign. We won the senior vote. I did dozens of Medicare town hall meetings in states like Florida, explaining how these are the best reforms to save the shrinking Medicare program and we are confidently this is the way to go.

Daines repeated that talking point to Todd: “Remember, the President did not carry seniors. Mitt Romney carried seniors 56 to 44. So seniors understand the issues here. [Medicare] needs to be reformed, so that their children and grandchildren have that safety net.”


Setting aside the issues with Ryan’s proposal to “preserve” Medicare in this fashion, there’s a more fundamental problem with this argument: It cites the wrong senior vote.

Apparently, according to Ryan and Daines, the fact that Ryan and Romney clinched the senior vote is more significant than the fact that they lost the general vote because seniors are the ones who are actually on Medicare, and are presumably best positioned to judge any changes to the program. But the seniors Ryan and Romney won are current seniors — and, for every one of his budgets, Ryan has explicitly stated that current seniors will not be moved into his premium support system. For those 55 and above, “no changes whatsoever in Medicare.” So by his own logic and his own policies, Ryan actually needed to win current voters under 55 to claim a mandate.

According to exit polling, the 2012 GOP presidential ticket won voters 65 years old and older by 56 percent to 44 percent — Daines’ number. And they won the 45–64 vote by 51 to 47. So they got at least a little bit of the under 55 crowd. But they lost voters 30–44 by 45 to 52, and they lost voters 18–29 by a whopping 37 to 60. Given who would actually be living with the reality of Ryan’s schemes, it’s hard to interpret those numbers as a mandate.