Cautious Mitt Romney rolled the dice Saturday with the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice-presidential running mate. Ryan will energize a conservative base that has been slow to warm to Romney, but Democrats were elated by the choice as well. There was no one on Romney’s short list of contenders they wanted to run against more than the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
The selection of Ryan, the architect of a sweeping and controversial budget blueprint, signals that Romney may now believe that relying on the economy’s weakness alone will not be enough to defeat President Obama, particularly with new polls showing the president leading after months in which he and Romney were in a statistical dead heat.
Ryan’s addition to the ticket shows that Romney is prepared to run a more robust campaign with a sharper message built around tax and spending cuts, deficit reduction and entitlement reform. That is exactly what a growing chorus of Republicans, nervous about the direction of the Romney campaign, has been urging.
A Romney-Ryan ticket will help to clarify the choices for voters in November. Rarely have the two parties presented such a stark contrast in visions as now appears to be the case. Those competing visions could produce, after a summer of often small-minded tactics, the kind of big debate about the country’s future that both Obama and Romney have said this campaign should be about.
Such a debate will generate as much heat as light, however, which is the risk that comes with putting Ryan on the ticket. Romney has now assumed ownership of Ryan’s budgetary plan and its provisions for reining in the cost of entitlement programs. Democrats will attack it and its author as vigorously as they have tried to savage Romney’s business background and personal finances.
Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicare—he would partially privatize the program—will become the principal focus of those Democratic attacks. A new survey conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 58 percent of Americans want Medicare left alone. The poll, which examines in detail the internal divisions in both parties, found that only one of five Republican groups—those who most strongly support the tea party movement—favor something like the changes Ryan has advocated.
That underscores the risk that goes along with selecting Ryan. But the congressman from Janesville, Wisc., brings clear attributes to the campaign ahead. Romney may be the presumptive Republican nominee but Ryan is the intellectual leader of congressional Republicans and to a great extent the party as a whole. He is from the party’s young and rising generation, which has a surer sense of the party’s new identity than Romney.
One sign of the degree to which conservatives look to Ryan came in the days leading to the announcement. Ryan’s candidacy was promoted by major elements of the conservative opinion makers, including the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Weekly Standard and the editor of National Review. They will now get behind Romney’s candidacy with more enthusiasm than they’ve shown in the past.
Ryan will make the case for economic prescriptions that include sharp cuts in spending along with tax cuts and entitlement reform more passionately than anyone else, and as a former staffer to the late Buffalo congressman and 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, with a projection of optimism not austerity.
Ryan has other attributes that commend his choice. He is a conservative Roman Catholic in a year when the Catholic vote could be pivotal in a number of battlegrounds, particularly in his native Midwest. He comes from Wisconsin, a state Democrats have won in every election dating to 1988. If the Romney-Ryan ticket were to prevail in the Badger State, that would help scramble some of the Electoral College calculations at Obama’s Chicago headquarters.
Ryan has the potential to make Romney a better candidate. Anyone who has watched the two men campaign together has seen the chemistry that exists between them. With Ryan on the stage next to him, Romney is more animated and relaxed and seemingly comfortable in having Ryan add firepower and heft to his message about the economy and the deficit.
Up to now, Romney has run a campaign that has been criticized for being too cautious and constrained. His strategy has been grounded in his and his advisers’ belief that the economic record of the past four years leaves Obama more than vulnerable. But many Republicans have challenged the Romney campaign to offer a bolder platform for the economy.
Among them was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a tough recall election in June by forcefully defending controversial budget and economic policies that triggered months of protests and a succession of recall elections. After winning the recall, Walker said his victory was proof that voters will reward leaders to make bold decisions and stick to their convictions.
Ryan is among those who have urged Romney to adopt a similar campaign strategy. “We can’t just win by default, by beating up on Obama,” he told me a few months ago when I asked him what it would take for Republicans to win the White House. Of Romney, he said, “He’s got to go to the country with what I call the choice of two futures. Not just vague platitudes but [to say] this is the path the president’s taking us down and this is where I want to take us and here’s how I want to get there.”
Ryan already has tangled with Obama and the White House. After Ryan issued his first budget in 2011, Obama savaged it, with Ryan in the audience. The president said the adoption of such a plan would lead to an America that would be fundamentally different than what we’ve known throughout our history. Last spring, he described the Ryan plan as “thinly veiled social Darwinism” and a “radical vision” that is “antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility.”
Romney had other good choices among those on his short list. Both Ohio Gov. Rob Portman and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, two seasoned politicians, would have added something helpful to the GOP ticket, though neither seemed to excite the party. Each believed through much of the process that Romney would pick the other.
That Romney turned to Ryan in the end says much about his competitiveness and his willingness to take risks. Risk-taking was always part of Romney’s approach to business, but that has not been the case so much in this campaign. Picking Ryan will be interpreted inside the GOP and beyond as evidence that Romney believed he needed to shake up the campaign as he looks to his convention, the debates and what will be an intense fall campaign.
The Republicans have been hungering for a presidential campaign that would draw bright lines with the president. They want a nominee who will challenge Obama to defend what they see as a lack of leadership not just on the economy but also on the fiscal problems that they believe threaten the country’s future. With Ryan at his side, Romney has now decided to run that kind of campaign, with all the benefits and costs that come with it.
Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman heads back to prison next month, contrite about and embarrassed by his bribery conviction. But when he faced resentencing earlier this month, he still was not quite ready to concede that he knowingly broke the law.
“If I had known I was coming close to the line where a campaign contribution becomes a bribe and a crime, I would have stopped,” Siegelman told U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who sentenced Siegelman to 61 / 2 years in prison.
Siegelman’s long and tangled legal journey — the charges date back to a 1999 state referendum — appears to be over.
But the debate over “the line where a campaign contribution becomes a bribe,” especially relevant in a year when campaign spending has become a paramount issue, shows no signs of fading away.
Not long before Siegelman learned his fate, a different federal judge who had presided over a different public corruption trial in the same Montgomery courthouse issued his own demarcation plea.
“The Supreme Court needs to address this issue and provide guidance to the lower courts, prosecutors, politicians, donors and the general public,” wrote U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1980.
He added: “Much ink has been spilled over the contours of campaign finance law. Far less attention has been paid to what actually constitutes a ‘bribe.’ ”
A precise definition, Thompson wrote, was needed to bring cohesion to campaign finance jurisprudence, “as the government’s interest in curbing corruption is now the sole basis for placing limits on campaign contributions.”
Thompson had just presided over a massive public corruption case brought by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section against several state legislators and two of the state’s most powerful lobbyists. After a jury hung on some charges in the first trial, the defendants were acquitted in a second trial of charges of bribery, extortion, and mail and wire fraud, among others, some of which involved campaign contributions alleged to be bribes.
Federal law makes it a crime to corruptly solicit or accept money with the intent of being rewarded or influenced in official actions, and prosecutors have said campaign contributions can be part of such a scheme.
The Supreme Court’s guidance on the issue is thin. In 1991, it ruled that a campaign contribution could be a bribe if prosecutors proved a quid pro quo — that the contribution was “made in return for an explicit promise or undertaking by the official to perform or not to perform an official act.”
In a subsequent case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the quid pro quo need not be expressly stated. But lower courts have differed, since then, on exactly what standards apply.
Thompson said the “murky” result implicates the constitutional right to participate in the political process and deprives politicians and citizens of fair notice of what is illegal.
“Distinguishing an illicit bribe from a genuine donation is sometimes no easy task,” Thompson wrote.
As the defendants in his case regularly pointed out, Thompson wrote, what about the moderate Republicans in the New York legislature who provided the margin of victory for legalizing same-sex marriage and then were rewarded with substantial contributions for their reelection efforts?
In Siegelman’s case, the contribution at issue was to his pet project, a lottery referendum measure that would help education. Richard Scrushy, a health-care facility magnate who had been appointed to a state hospital facility planning board by previous Republican governors, gave $500,000 to the referendum campaign. Siegelman, a Democrat, later reappointed him to the board.
Both men were convicted of bribery.
Siegelman’s case, considered by the Supreme Court in June, drew an outpouring of support. Election law experts such as Rick Pildes, a New York University law professor, said the vague guidelines gave too much leeway to prosecutors who might have partisan agendas.
And 113 former state attorneys general from both parties asked the court to take the case. They said they had run for office under such laws and prosecuted those who violated them and were concerned about “unacceptable and counterproductive ambiguity.”
But, without comment, the justices in June rejected Siegelman’s petition.
Sam Heldman, Siegelman’s attorney, said he hoped Thompson’s initiative will have an impact on a future case.
“He has probably spent more time wrestling with this area of law than any other judge has,” Heldman said. “So when he tells us that the law in this area is murky and that the Supreme Court needs to address the issue, we should listen.”
But at Siegelman’s resentencing last month, Thompson’s colleague Fuller suggested that the court might have been right not to use Siegleman’s case as the test.
“The facts of this case for years have been misrepresented,” Fuller said. “There is no doubt in this court’s mind that what took place was a bribe.”
Would Paul Ryan's budget give Mitt Romney zero taxes?
August 12, 2012, 12:39 p.m.
Democrats have homed in on a new line of attack against the Republican ticket — asserting that the budget plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan would all-but zero out Mitt Romney’s taxes.
“It says something about Mitt Romney that he’s picking someone who has a budget plan under which Mitt Romney would pay less than 1% in taxes,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Whether the attack is true or not depends on which version of Ryan’s plan one looks at.
When Ryan unveiled his plan in 2010, it eliminated all taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends. Many wealthy Americans, including Romney, get most — or, in some cases, all — of their income through capital gains and investment returns, so the change would greatly increase the number of rich people paying no taxes.
Romney, himself, realized that idea could be politically damaging and opposed it during the GOP primaries.
During January’s primary debate in Tampa, Fla., Romney challenged Newt Gingrich over his support for eliminating all taxes on capital gains.
“Under that plan, I’d have paid no taxes in the last two years,” Romney said.
With Romney opposed to the idea, it’s no surprise that the latest version of the Ryan budget, which the House approved this spring, leaves the fate of capital gains taxes uncertain. The plan would change the income tax by moving from the current six rates to two — 10% and 25% — and would cut other taxes to the tune of $4.5 trillion over the next decade, over and above the tax cuts enacted under George W. Bush, which it would keep in place. But it makes no specific proposal about capital gains.
That’s why Democrats, in their critiques, have focused on the 2010 version, as in this quote from Obama senior strategist David Axelrod on CNN’s "State of the Union" program: “Congressman Ryan had a proposal in 2010” that would have meant that “Gov. Romney would pay less than 1% on his taxes.”
Ryan’s congressional financial disclosure form shows substantial investments, suggesting he, too, might benefit from eliminating taxes on capital gains, but until he releases his tax returns, the precise savings are unknown.
While Ryan has gone quiet about the specifics, he has kept intact his rationale for opposing capital gains taxes. The more you tax something, the less of it you get, he wrote in the report that accompanies his budget, so capital gains taxes reduce funds available for investment. “Tax reform should promote savings and investment,” he wrote. “More savings and investment mean a larger stock of capital available for job creation. That means more jobs, more productivity, and higher wages for all American workers.”
As Democrats will be happy to point out, it also means huge tax savings for people like Ryan’s running mate.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. — One of Mitt Romney’s criticisms of President Obama is that he’s never had a real job so he doesn’t understand how businesses work. So his selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate presents a bit of a rhetorical challenge – the seven-term Wisconsin congressman has worked in the nation’s capital for nearly his entire adult life.
Romney touched upon his running mate’s lengthy residence in the nation’s capital during a raucous rally here on Sunday, saying that Ryan felt compelled put aside his own interests and go to Washington because he recognized the perils the nation would face because of its spending addiction.
“His career ambition was not to go to Washington, that is not what he wanted to do,” Romney told more than 1,700 supporters at a NASCAR facility. (Thousands more waited outside.) “But he became concerned about what was happening in the country and wanted to get America back on track, and so he put aside the plans he had for his career and said, 'I’m going to go and serve.' And he’s gone there and he’s put country and policies to get America right again ahead of ambition.”
Politics does not appear to be an accidental profession for Ryan – he majored in political science at Miami University in Ohio and has worked in politics since he interned for a Wisconsin senator’s D.C. office while in college. His first job after graduation was on Capitol Hill. He moved back to Wisconsin for two years to work in his family’s business just before he ran for Congress, in 1998.
In Washington, D.C., Ryan was long viewed as ambitious. When he was a staffer, many expected him to one day run for elected office, as noted by this Politico article, which dubs Ryan a “creature of the Capitol.”
Romney offered the gentle defense of Ryan’s background during the second day of their joint tour of swing states, at a NASCAR mechanics’ training school. More than 1,700 people were jammed inside, and thousands more waited outside.
Romney stood in front of a red, white and blue race car emblazoned with his name and campaign logo, which he admired when he took the stage.
“I look back here at this car, I’ll tell you, you see as a boy, my dad made Ramblers and I only dreamed of cars like that,” he said, referring to his father George’s tenure as head of American Motors. “To have my name on a car like that is just too much.”
Romney and Ryan plan to spend the rest of Sunday campaigning in North Carolina and Wisconsin before parting to stump separately until the GOP convention in late August.
Mitt Romney's Paul Ryan choice makes the contrast with President Obama clear.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is Mitt Romney's Al Gore, a policy wonk who brings legislative experience and seriousness of purpose to the ticket. He is, in other words, no Sarah Palin. But Ryan is also the symbol of something more: a commitment to a particularly conservative vision of a smaller federal government, a scaled-back safety net and a lower tax burden. By choosing Ryan, Romney answered the critics (particularly on the right) who questioned whether his campaign had a vision for the future. If there were voters who harbored any doubt about the magnitude of the choice they face in November, they should no longer.
Although Romney has taken positions on an array of issues, the race so far has largely been a backward-looking and bile-spewing affair. The media deserve some of the blame for that, but so do the campaigns and their "super PAC" allies. In choosing Ryan, Romney may hope to shift the campaign from personal attacks to debates about fiscal policy. That's quixotic, but it would be a welcome change.
Ryan's presence on the ticket helps sharpen the contrast between President Obama's so-called "balanced" approach, which combines tax hikes and spending restraints, and Romney's ambition to rein in entitlements and discretionary programs while cutting taxes in the hope of spurring growth. Indeed, Ryan makes the GOP ticket more stubbornly ideological and less pragmatic. Ryan had the chance as a member of the White House deficit commission to back a bipartisan plan in 2010 to repair the federal government's finances, but he voted no because he wanted to roll back Obama's healthcare reform law and make a bigger dent in Medicare and Medicaid. The proposal fell a few votes short of the supermajority needed to send it to Congress.
One risk for Romney is that Ryan is a leader of what may be the most unloved political institution in America. Another is that, rather than having a serious debate about Washington's fiscal mess, the Obama campaign will simply unleash the stinging and often hyperbolic critiques that Democrats have made of Ryan's budgets. We don't trust Ryan's tax-cutting math, and we're skeptical of his proposals to transform Medicare into limited insurance subsidies and to cap federal spending on Medicaid, but we agree that neither program is sustainable without reforms. And it was probably just a matter of time before the Obama campaign loosed those attacks on Romney anyway, given his praise for Ryan's plan.
The other suggestion Romney makes by picking Ryan is that the Republican strategy will turn less on attracting independents than turning out loyalists. The brainy Ryan should help Romney shore up his conservative base and motivate tea party voters. That's because Romney's pick says the race isn't about governing, it's about changing government.
Romney calls Obama ‘angry and desperate’ as campaign turns uglier
By Philip Rucker and Amy Gardner
Published: August 14
The Washington Post
CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Mitt Romney lashed out at President Obama with some of the harshest rhetoric of his campaign at a Tuesday night rally here, accusing Obama of leveling “wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the presidency.”
The already divisive presidential contest took on an even uglier tone after Romney seized on the latest campaign-trail skirmish — a comment at a Virginia rally by Vice President Biden that Romney’s plans to loosen Wall Street regulations would “put y’all back in chains” — to go after his opponents.
"This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like. President Obama knows better, promised better, and America deserves better,” Romney told a roaring crowd of about 5,000 supporters in Chillicothe. “His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then try to cobble together 51 percent of the pieces. If an American president wins that way, we all lose.”
Romney added, “Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.”
Throughout the summer, Romney has taken umbrage at the tone of the Democratic advertising barrage, but this week he ratcheted up his criticism. He and his advisers wrote much of the speech Tuesday on his campaign bus riding between stops in Ohio.
His campaign is also airing negative television advertisements. The latest, released Tuesday, accuses Obama of diverting more than $700 billion from Medicare to pay for his health-care overhaul.
“Governor Romney’s comments tonight seemed unhinged, and particularly strange coming at a time when he’s pouring tens of millions of dollars into negative ads that are demonstrably false,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.
Romney and his advisers have been using increasingly hot language to charge that the president has abandoned his 2008 themes of hope and change. But they became particularly incensed by an ad from Priorities USA, a pro-Obama super PAC, that suggests Romney is to blame for the death of a woman whose husband lost his job and health insurance after Bain Capital, a firm Romney co-founded, took over the steel mill where he worked.
Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), an intellectual leader of the conservative movement, as his running mate was expected to crystallize the policy differences between the Democratic and Republican tickets and elevate the conversation to a substantive debate about the federal debt and entitlement programs.
But the high-minded campaign has not come to be. Four days in, Romney’s campaign accused Biden of alluding to slavery, Obama joked about the time Romney drove his station wagon with the family dog on the roof, and Romney called the president “intellectually exhausted.”
And the candidates have yet to enter the post-Labor Day sprint, when things normally get tough.
Since Ryan’s selection, Democrats have celebrated the chance to use his controversial budget plan to alter the Medicare program to hammer the newly minted Republican ticket.
The Romney campaign launched a preemptive strike on Tuesday to embrace Ryan’s idea and say that it is Obama who is “actually damaging Medicare for current seniors.”
In a new television ad and in remarks delivered across the critical battleground state of Ohio, Romney accused Obama of raiding $716billion from Medicare to pay for his health-care overhaul.
"He is taking your money to finance his risky and unproven takeover of the health-care system,” Romney said in Chillicothe. “He is putting Medicare at greater risk. He is putting health care at greater risk. He is putting your jobs at greater risk. We will not let Obamacare happen.”
Romney’s advisers foreshadowed more efforts in the days ahead to define the Medicare debate on their terms. The campaign is trying to show voters that it will not shrink from Obama, even on politically treacherous terrain — including Medicare.
“Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to be had here,” Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, said in an interview. “We feel like this is a great debate, that the president is in*cred*ibly vulnerable here. . . . We have a plan to save it for future generations, which they don’t have.”
However, the move carries significant risk, particularly in Florida and here in Ohio, critical swing states that have many seniors — although it may be the only way to cushion Romney from the potential political fallout of Ryan’s budget proposal.
“You have to reform it for the younger generation in order to make the commitment stick for the current generation,” Ryan said on Fox News Channel. “President Obama is actually damaging Medicare for current seniors. It’s irrefutable. And that’s why I think this is a debate we want to have, and that’s a debate we’re going to win.”
The Obama campaign accused Romney of hypocrisy, noting that the Republican supports Ryan’s budget, which includes Obama’s $716 billion in baseline Medicare cuts.
The Obama campaign issued a memo Tuesday about the dim view many Floridians hold of Romney’s and Ryan’s statements on Medicare. Citing numerous recent polls and newspaper articles in Florida, the memo made the case that Romney’s selection of Ryan as his running mate will be a “game changer” in Florida.
“They’re spending millions of dollars on a lie to try to distract from the Ryan budget because they know it’s absolutely devastating for them with voters of all ages,” said Stephanie Cutter, a top Obama aide. “Unfortunately, the fact that both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to turn Medicare into a voucher and raise costs for seniors by up to $6,000 blunts everything else in this conversation.”
The Medicare push came on a day on when Obama and Romney also traded blows over energy policy: the president promoting new homegrown sources such as wind to replace imported oil, and his GOP challenger journeying to coal country to accuse Obama of destroying the coal industry.
Romney has long assailed Obama for imposing regulations that he says have stymied business for producers of more traditional energy sources while favoring elusive alternative energies.
Yet on day two of his three-day campaign across an Iowa landscape where wind turbines are nearly as common as cornfields, Obama pounded Romney and pushed Congress to extend tax credits for the wind-energy industry — an effort Republicans oppose.
In Iowa alone, the industry employs more than 7,000 people, according to the Obama campaign; nationwide, that figure is 75,000. Obama has said that 37,000 jobs nationally would be at risk if the wind-tax credit is not extended.
Romney, the president said, has called new energy sources “imaginary” and Ryan has called them a “fad.”
“During a speech a few months ago, Governor Romney even explained his energy policy this way: ‘You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it,’ ” Obama said. “I wonder if he actually tried that. That’s something I would have liked to see.”
Then, Obama added: “I don’t know if he’s actually tried that. I know he’s had other things on his car.” It was a rare reference by Obama to Romney having once placed his dog Seamus in a crate mounted to the roof of his station wagon during a family vacation.
Can Romney and Ryan get their message past the Democrats’ attacks?
By Dan Balz
Wednesday, August 15, 1:07 AM
The Washington Post
Mitt Romney is enjoying a burst of energy after adding Rep. Paul Ryan to the Republican presidential ticket. He is drawing the biggest and most enthusiastic crowds of his campaign, the same way GOP nominee John McCain did four years ago after naming Sarah Palin as his running mate. Romney is getting what he hoped for when he passed over safer choices.
But he also has bought trouble, as is clear from Democrats’ attacks on Ryan’s far-reaching and controversial budget plan, which would, among other things, transform Medicare into a premium support program for younger people upon retirement.
Whether or not Romney wanted a debate about Medicare, an issue that long has favored Democrats, he has one. His campaign advisers recognize the dangers. From their perspective, it’s better to have the discussion now than in October. They are trying to take this fight to the president in a way that no Republican nominee has done before.
On Tuesday, the Romney campaign began its counterattack on the Medicare issue even before President Obama’s campaign could air its first ad on the subject. Romney’s ad charges that Obama cut more than $700 billion from Medicare to help finance his controversial health-care overhaul.
“We’re the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare,” Ryan (Wis.) told Brit Hume of Fox News Channel. “President Obama is actually damaging Medicare for current seniors. It’s irrefutable. And that’s why I think this is a debate we want to have, and that’s a debate we’re going to win.”
Romney is dealing with two problems: the details of Ryan’s budget blueprint, and questions about the differences between the running mates’ fiscal and Medicare plans.
Romney and his advisers insist that he will run on his plan, not Ryan’s. In part, they’ve done that to remind people that the tail will not wag the dog, that the running mate will not overshadow the nominee. Any presidential candidate would say the same thing.
But keeping Ryan’s plan out of the debate is virtually impossible. Romney embraced the conceptual framework of the congressman’s blueprint long before he selected Ryan as his running mate. At the time, he could preserve some space to say he wouldn’t follow every detail of Ryan’s plan.
That was before he put on the ticket a politician described as the intellectual leader of the GOP, who has been in the thick of the battle over how to transform government through tax cuts, budget reductions and entitlement reform. Pick Ryan, and you get his blueprint as your own.
On the big issues, Romney and Ryan are in agreement. They favor big tax cuts from which the wealthiest Americans would benefit significantly. They have not fully explained how they would offset that lost revenue. They support reductions in domestic discretionary spending. Both want changes that would convert Medicare into a premium support program for younger workers. Their priorities are the same.
Romney hasn’t said whether he has real differences with Ryan or mostly minor ones — on Medicare or anything else in the budget proposal. The last thing he wants is a Romney-Ryan debate, but if there are substantive differences, they ought to be highlighted and explained. One real difference is that Ryan accepts the cuts Obama made to Medicare as part of his budget. Romney would restore them but hasn’t explained why he objects to what Ryan would do.
Romney hoped that the choice of Ryan would amplify his message that the status quo or even small changes aren’t going to solve the country’s fiscal problems. That is a big argument and a debate worth having. Right now, however, Romney is dealing with questions about whether Ryan’s plan would hurt seniors, the middle class or the poor.
Democrats are seizing the moment. Obama is traveling across Iowa this week trying to tie Romney via Ryan to congressional Republicans, whose favorability rating is in the basement. Vice President Biden is attacking Ryan almost as if he were the nominee.
Obama campaign advisers are brushing aside any idea that there is daylight between Romney and Ryan and focusing on Ryan’s budget for what is likely to be a campaign of negative ads. The Democrats are using August as they used July, to try to define the opposition before Romney — and now Ryan — can fully defend and define themselves.
Romney’s campaign advisers believe they have opportunities to win this debate. Obama’s economic record remains the biggest threat to his reelection bid. He is vulnerable as well to the criticism that he is not offering real leadership on entitlement reform. The new Medicare ad seeks to exploit what the president did to Medicare to finance his health-care program and put Democrats on the defensive.
Ironically, Democrats cried foul over the new ad, saying Obama was cutting the rate of growth in the program, not reducing actual spending. That ignores the fact that, in the 1996 campaign, Democrats attacked Republicans for cutting Medicare spending when Republicans were reducing the rate of growth in the program.
The Republican National Convention will give Romney a chance to tie everything together: his biography presented in its most positive way; the policy differences with Obama outlined with clarity; the economic and fiscal arguments advanced with sharpness and elevation; and the Obama attacks rebutted cleanly. The campaign may look and feel different at that point.
But Romney and Ryan face the possibility that, before the convention, Obama and the Democrats will define Ryan’s budget — and in particular his changes to Medicare — so negatively that the damage will be long-lasting. That’s why Romney’s campaign has moved quickly to blunt the Medicare attacks. But this fight is just starting, which is what makes these weeks a defining moment in the campaign.
Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate has reignited a debate over the future of Medicare. But Ryan’s proposed cuts to Medicaid, the other huge federal health program, could have quicker and more far-reaching consequences, with the potential to dramatically affect state budgets and health care for millions of people.
Ryan has proposed scaling back the nation’s four-decade-old insurance program for the poor and disabled — bringing down the cost by $810 billion over 10 years. The measure is part of a budget he has said aims to avert “an epic collapse of our health and retirement programs that would devastate our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, also wants to give states their Medicaid contributions in “block grants,” or set amounts, each year. States would get more flexibility, with the expectation that they would be able to use the money more efficiently and creatively.
But experts say the cutbacks are so dramatic that it would be impossible for states to innovate their way out of massive cuts to a program that in 2010 served some 54 million Americans, roughly 6 million more than Medicare. “There’s always great interest on the part of Republican governors and conservatives in block-granting Medicaid, and it is always framed as a debate about flexibility. But it never is,” said Drew Altman, president of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “Really, it is all about money.”
The debate echoes one that has become central to this year’s presidential race, on the role of government and the best way to address the nation’s burgeoning deficit. By choosing Ryan, Romney has gambled that voters, in the name of deficit reduction, are willing to stomach the idea of cuts they previously rejected.
Though Romney has praised Ryan’s plan broadly, he has suggested without elaboration that he disagrees with some parts of it. However, Romney has endorsed the idea of converting Medicaid into a block grant program.
The recent attention to Medicare reflects a political reality — the program affects a much more engaged voting bloc, senior citizens, whose support can make or break a candidate.
No matter who is elected, Medicaid likely will be the subject of fierce debate in coming months, as the government continues to roll out changes under President Obama’s new health care law and lawmakers on Capitol Hill begin to tackle the national debt.
Medicaid emerged as a flashpoint in late June when the Supreme Court struck down a requirement under the health law that states expand eligibility to the program, ensuring that about 17 million more Americans would gain health coverage. Some Republican governors have since announced they will not go along with that expansion.
Budget experts say Medicaid is likely to again become a major issue as Congress begins to tackle the “fiscal cliff” — when a number of budgetary deadlines coincide and lawmakers are expected to hash out a strategy for addressing the national debt.
“Certainly, on some level and for a variety of reasons, Medicaid will likely change in the near future regardless of who wins the November election,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. “A big driver of that is going to be the federal deficit reduction efforts.”
The notion of converting Medicaid into block grants for the states is not new. Conservatives have pushed for it for years and almost succeeded in the 1990s, when then-President Clinton rejected the idea after it was floated as part of a larger package of reforms to the nation’s social welfare system.
Under Ryan’s budget — approved this year by the House but rejected by the Senate — states would be given a set amount each year based on population and inflation. Unlike the Medicare changes he proposes, which would not kick in until 2023, the Medicaid changes would happen almost immediately.
Critics note that any annual increases would be less than the expected rise in the cost of health care, and say it is likely that the change would result in people being kicked off the Medicaid rolls and states lowering payments to doctors and hospitals.
A study for Kaiser by the nonpartisan Urban Institute estimated that under a similar plan proposed by Ryan in 2011, between 14 million and 27 million Medicaid recipients could lose their coverage by 2021. But supporters of the block grant concept say the program is too costly as it is currently run, and that the increased flexibility could help states tailor the program to their citizens and improve their health.
“To be able to respond to local needs and take advantage of local opportunities, you need to be able to move as quickly as the private sector,” said Tony Keck, director of the South Carolina health department and a supporter of Medicaid block grants. “Medicaid has to plod on behind, getting permission from the federal government to do anything really innovative.”
Critics say Obama’s expansion of Medicaid will encumber state governments and burden taxpayers.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the expansion of insurance under the health law will cost about $1.2 trillion during the next decade, though the health law overall is projected to reduce the deficit.
But critics of the Ryan plan say it would gut a program that has been a crucial part of the social safety net for decades, and has been proven to improve the health of those who enroll.
“It’s hard to see how you can squeeze out so much savings without making significant cuts,” said Edwin Park, vice president for health policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Basically, many people are going to end up uninsured and they’re going to go without care.”
Who knew? In the hall-of-mirrors parallel universe where the Republican National Convention is taking place, the GOP stands tall and proud as the party of Medicare.
I’m still a little confused about the historical timeline in this alternate reality. Was it President Goldwater who signed into law the nation’s health-care guarantee for seniors? Was it President Dole who made sure the program remained solvent? Did John McCain win in 2008?
It must be that in RNC World, the past simply doesn’t exist. There is no other explanation for all the Great Society rhetoric coming from Republicans who once claimed to favor small government, limited entitlements and a balanced budget.
At a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg News on Monday morning, Mitt Romney’s campaign brain trust claimed to welcome a fight with President Obama over the future of Medicare. I say “claimed” because the Romney team surely recognizes that putting Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the ticket means not being able to run away from Ryan’s plan — endorsed by House Republicans — to transform Medicare into a voucher program.
This radical change would, as Democrats claim, “end Medicare as we know it.” Instead of the current guarantee that the program pays for medical costs, Ryan’s plan would give seniors a set amount of money each year to buy private health insurance. If that sum isn’t enough to pay for the necessary coverage — or to pay for traditional Medicare — seniors would have to make up the difference.
“I think we’re winning the Medicare battle because the facts are on our side,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s communications chief. “It’s not usual that Republicans have the upper hand in this argument.”
To say the least.
The GOP’s argument centers on $716 billion that Obama, through the Affordable Care Act, has shifted away from Medicare providers, such as doctors and hospitals, over the next decade. Most of these cost savings were negotiated with the providers, and there would be no — repeat, no — reduction in benefits to seniors.
Nevertheless, as soon as Ryan’s selection was announced, Republicans went on the attack with ads charging Obama with “gutting” Medicare and promising that not a penny would be cut under a Romney administration.
Remember, this is a parallel universe. We’re supposed to forget that Obamacare preserves Medicare as a guarantee — a promise that all Americans will have health care in their golden years — while the Romney-Ryan plan would subject seniors to the vagaries of the private insurance market and potentially cost them an extra $6,400 a year.
Facts and history also went unacknowledged at “Newt University,” a series of policy lectures and workshops that Newt Gingrich is staging this week for conventioneers. The very first class at Newt U happened to be about Medicare.
“When you talk about who’s tearing up Medicare, it’s Barack Obama,” thundered the one-time college professor. Meanwhile, to Gingrich’s right, a video screen showed the results of an audience poll asking how much Obama had “cut” Medicare. To participate, you had to send your answer by text; tallies were updated, in real time, on the screen. How this represented an improvement on the “show of hands” method was unclear.
Gingrich gave way to guest lecturer Betsy McCaughey, the former New York lieutenant governor for whom opposition to the Affordable Care Act has become a crusade and a career. She made Gingrich sound measured and moderate, which ain’t easy.
Obama, she charged, has already “destroyed Medicare as we know it.” Extracting the $716 billion in cost savings from Medicare providers, while simultaneously providing coverage for 31 million uninsured Americans, was the equivalent of “robbing Grandma to spread the wealth.”
McCaughey was just warming up. It’s not just Grandma’s money that’s at stake, she charged, but also her life. The Affordable Care Act “will mean fewer elderly patients survive their hospital stay and leave alive.”
Run for your life, Granny.
Let’s return to the real world. As McCaughey said in a moment of lucidity, Medicare has fundamentally transformed the experience of aging in this country by providing a guarantee of health care.
What she didn’t acknowledge is that it was Democrats who conceived of Medicare, passed it into law and kept it viable all these years. It was Republicans who denounced the program as “socialized medicine” — and who now want to replace Medicare’s guarantee with a system of vouchers.
Republicans may tell themselves that the GOP is the party of Medicare. But I doubt seniors will be convinced.
TAMPA — On Day 1 of their tempest-tossed convention, Republicans ran up the debt, said a prayer — and walked away.
The Monday session, condensed to just seven minutes to keep people out of Tropical Storm Isaac’s way, was to have two purposes, according to the official Republican National Committee schedule: “Call to Order” and “Start Debt Clocks.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus did as advertised, hammering the convention to order with six strikes of his oversized gavel. With the first strike, the “Debt From Convention Start” number jumped right to $450; by the time Priebus left the stage, it was already up to $8.5 billion.
Priebus told the few delegates in attendance that the clock was intended to illustrate President Obama’s fiscal recklessness. He evidently didn’t consider that leaving the debt clock running and walking out might also highlight Republicans’ complicity.
But that is the least of Republicans’ troubles this week. They are at the mercy of Mother Nature, and it turns out she has a wicked sense of humor.
Over the weekend, when the forecasting models showed Isaac making a beeline for Tampa Bay, Republicans delayed most of their proceedings until Tuesday. As soon as Republicans postponed their event, Isaac changed course away from Tampa and toward New Orleans, where it is forecast to hit with hurricane-force winds at about the time Republicans begin their prime-time proceedings on Tuesday night.
At best, this weak rerun of Katrina will cause a split-screen effect in coverage of the convention; a groggy Anderson Cooper was spotted leaving his Tampa hotel Monday morning for storm-coverage duty in New Orleans. At worst, the juxtaposition of storm damage and balloon drops will make the Republicans appear insensitive.
Completing the cosmic joke, the weather would have been fine for a convention in Tampa on Monday: gusty, with intermittent showers and sun. But minutes before the 2 p.m. start of the abbreviated session at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the wind and rain picked up and the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Tampa’s Hillsborough County. By the time the brief session ended, the sun had returned.
If there is any good to come out of this soggy spectacle, it will be that it hastens the demise of the political convention, which has become a meaningless anachronism. The Democrats’ convention next week has already been shortened to three days, and Republicans are joining Democrats in concluding that the drawn-out affairs of years past have become pointless.
“I’m not sure that having a four-day convention, for the future, makes a lot of sense,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told The Post’s Karen Tumulty and other reporters at a Monday lunch organized by the Christian Science Monitor. He said it may not be “worth the tremendous resources that are put into it.”
Tampa makes that case powerfully. Many city blocks have been converted to an armed encampment, and major roads have been shut down. Vans with mirrored walls and ceilings whisk participants to and fro within the security “perimeter.” Media organizations have erected elaborate sets and hospitality areas. In the hall, robotic cameras swing from the ceiling, where netted balloons are set for the inevitable, clichéd drop. Yet for all the elaborate preparation and expense, the televisions playing all around the convention showed little but Isaac’s red, yellow and green precipitation bands.
The RNC’s Priebus contributed to the irrelevance with his seven-minute show on Monday. He took the stage to tepid applause from a sparse crowd. “Wow!” he said.
“It is my privilege to proclaim the 2012 Republican National Convention in session and called to order,” Priebus informed them, smiling self-consciously and reading from one of those teleprompters Republicans often mock Obama for using. He continued: “The chair announces, pursuant to Clause 12, Paren B, Paren 1 of Rule 1 of the rules of the House of Representatives, the 2012 Republican National Convention stands in recess subject to a call of the chair.”
Priebus hammered his gavel again, grinned and flashed a mocking two thumbs up toward the crowd, equally divided between delegates and media representatives. “All right,” Priebus said. “So we’re in recess.” He then explained the debt clock, brought out a preacher and played a video of Mitt Romney making a patriotic speech, which thinned the crowd.
Priebus and the minister, Russell Levenson, offered thoughts for storm victims. The chairman thanked emergency workers helping “those in the path of Hurricane Isaac,” and the minister offered a prayer for “those already affected by the hurricane and those in its path.”
Amen. But if Isaac puts an end to political conventions, nobody should mourn.