WASHINGTON – House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Monday sought to rekindle support for his plan to phase out Medicare, accusing his opponents of resorting to "class warfare" and "sowing social unrest."
"Class warfare may be clever politics, but it is terrible economics. Redistributing wealth never creates more of it," Ryan said at the Economic Club of Chicago, according to prepared remarks. "Sowing social unrest and class envy makes America weaker, not stronger. Playing one group against another only distracts us from the true sources of inequity in this country."
The afternoon speech, set in President Barack Obama's hometown, was an attempt by Ryan to quell doubts about his plan to replace Medicare over ten years with a voucher program for seniors to buy private health insurance. The House-passed proposal, voted for last month by all but four Republicans, has drawn the ire of senior citizens.
With Republicans growing skittish about the plan amid a barrage of Democratic attacks, Ryan sought to re-frame the debate as a choice between letting Medicare go bankrupt and saving it by transforming it. He decried the "green-eyeshade arithmetic" that he said has dominated the debate, emphasizing that those within ten years of retirement won't be kicked off Medicare as it exists.
"The disagreement isn't really about the problem. It’s about the solution to controlling costs in Medicare," the congressman said. "Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient providers. Their plan is to give government the power to deny care to seniors."
Democrats are determined to make Medicare the centerpiece of the 2012 elections, in the hope that they might take back the House. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiling a brutal new campaign slogan Monday -- "Vote Republican, End Medicare" -- that's sure to further rankle the GOP.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Ryan's Medicare plan would, starting in 2022, shift a portion of health care costs from the government onto seniors. The annual growth of its vouchers would not keep up with medical-cost inflation, and seniors would have to make up the difference by paying out of pocket.
Medicare is poised to remain solvent in its current form until 2024, according to its most recent trustees report, released Friday. After that, it will be able to pay out a portion of its benefits. The report said the Affordable Care Act extended the program's life by eight years.
Ryan is considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (R-WI).