Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate has fundamentally altered the 2012 presidential election. What was once thought to be a referendum on President Obama has suddenly morphed into the largest debate on entitlements we have had in nearly half a century. The mud slinging will continue, but it will now come within the context of entitlement issues. The Obama campaign has long sought to tie Romney to the Ryan budget plan, and now Romney has helped them out.
The reason for this tectonic shift is the budget plan Paul Ryan proposed back in 2011. In that plan, Medicare was transformed into a premium support service, much like a voucher program. It would give seniors money to purchase private insurance, and they would not have access to the current system of Medicare. That system would be put into place for citizens that were below the age of 55, with those over 55 keeping the current system. The budget plan was very unpopular, and was ultimately voted down. A later version of the Ryan plan made the premium support optional, allowing citizens to choose between traditional Medicare and premium support.
Democrats ran against the Ryan plan in several special elections after it was proposed, and were quite successful. While Americans are for entitlement reform as an idea, they become less enthusiastic when actual details are revealed. For the most part, citizens do not want big changes to Medicare or Social Security. Most users of these programs are quite happy with them. Attempting to alter them, even for future generations, is politically risky.
Mitt Romney had previously endorsed the Ryan plan, but has since said he would come up with his own plan. He continues to make that point now, but Democrats will no doubt pin the Ryan plan on him, and run ads claiming that Republicans will end Medicare as we know it. Negative ads work, and this could be a devastating line of attack. The tactic could swing the key state of Florida, which houses a large senior population, towards President Obama.
Regardless of who wins the contest, this is actually very good for America. We need to have this entitlement debate now, particularly on Medicare. Neither side has a plan that solves the problem, and it will take both sides to come up with a permanent solution. The truth of the matter is we ultimately have to make a choice: less money for doctors and hospitals, or less coverage for sick people. We can not continue to see the cost of health care go up and ever hope to cover everyone. Something has to give.
Thus far, neither side has bothered working on the rising cost of health care itself. Democrats and Republicans have merely tinkered with the delivery system of insurance. That goes for both Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, and Obamacare. That is the failure of both plans. They do not get to the root of the problem.
The Vice Presidential debate should now prove to be very interesting. Paul Ryan is a very intelligent, and eloquent speaker. He is known for being very persuasive, explaining his ideas succinctly. Joe Biden has a charisma of his own, being more of an average Joe, while also being quite intelligent himself. The two differ on their areas of expertise. Ryan is more of an economic, and budget expert, whereas Joe Biden specializes in foreign policy. It should be a great debate nonetheless.
The election has now become one of true choice. Despite pundits on each side claiming big differences between the candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were actually quite similar in many ways. Paul Ryan moves the Romney team in a different direction that gives Americans two drastically different options to choose between. That is something we need in every election, but particularly in this election where the stakes are as high as they’ve been in quite some time.