Democrats continue to express optimism that the Romney selection of Ryan as his VP will make the GOP vulnerable on Medicare. But if recent polls are any indication their optimism does not appear well-founded. And they have have forgotten something. They are just as vulnerable, if not more so, on the Medicare issue courtesy of Obamacare.
Recent polls have shown the race getting closer in several battleground states as more voters tune into the election. It is a dead heat in CO, VA, FL and OH according to a Purple Strategies poll. The Gallup tracking poll shows Romney leading by two points for three days, his first consistent lead of the campaign. And then of course there is the media coverage. Even the left leaning media outlets have been championing aspects of Ryan that sound good. A strong work ethic, young, ideal family man and more have been mentioned at least once.
It is safe to say Democrats did not expect this. Ryan was the one who masterminded what they call “Throwing grandma over the cliff.” They refer to Ryan’s budget plan that would by 2024 turn Medicare into a voucher system. In other words if you are 54 today than the Medicare you know today will not be around in 11 years. Democrats have jumped on this and argue Ryan is attempting to destroy America’s largest entitlement program.
This argument has not found traction because it is becoming more and more clear the Romney campaign had a message ready to deflect Democratic attacks on Ryan. If Democrats argue that Ryan “Is changing Medicare as we know it,” the Romney campaign is ready to dish it right back. Better yet, it brings back up into the election the issue of Obamacare.
Buried in the labyrinth of spending, cuts and regulations that make up Obamacare is something about Medicare Democrats do not want brought up. Specifically, Obamacare would cut $716 billion from the program over the next 10 years to make it budget neutral and reallocate money to new programs created under the law. Democrats contend that the cuts would only come from growth in the program but growth in the program comes from more people retiring and thus entering the system. Either way, people in Medicare are affected by Obamacare. Their quality of care changes and that effectively changes Medicare as we know it.
The changes Obamacare makes to Medicare are actually are actually far more fundamental than Ryan’s. Under Obamacare, an independent board of unelected bureaucrats (Oh I am sorry, experts), the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), would have free rein to hold down the costs of the program. Not accountable to voters, or even Congress, they would only answer to the HHS Secretary and be able to do things such as ration care. Instead of putting people’s medical decisions in their own hands as Ryan’s plan would, the IPAB would be able to make arbitrary decisions about people’s care and be insulated from the consequences. I would call that a significant change to Medicare.
In the last week Romney’s campaign has hit on this hard. Over the weekend Ryan traveled to the Villages in Florida. For those who do not know that massive retirement community has over 350,000 seniors. The turnout for Ryan’s campaign event was estimated over 10,000. Better yet for the optics of the event and make Ryan appear senior friendly, his mother, on Medicare, joined him on-stage and called the Democratic attacks shameful. Ryan then spoke about the need for reform and echoed what his mother said about the attacks on his plan. The crowd was abuzz.
It has become apparent that the Romney campaign does not expect to win on the issue of Medicare. Traditionally Democrats have polled better on entitlement issues. But if the GOP can fight Democrats to a draw on the issue and at the same time bring back up in the campaign Obamacare they might have a winning hand. In swing states such as Florida and Ohio the issue of Obamacare could hit hard.
A new poll out of Florida showed seniors are more worried about the impact of Obamacare on the country than Ryan’s budget plan. Seniors make up a significant chunk of the electorate in Florida and they do vote. If Romney wins them despite having Ryan on the ticket he is very likely to carry the state.
In Ohio Romney operatives see an opening on the Obamacare issue. In 2011 the state overwhelmingly passed the Healthcare Freedom Amendment to the Ohio state Constitution. The Amendment garnered well over 65% of the vote and saw some traditional Democratic counties, especially in the Southeast (coal country and blue-collar white) vote heavily for the Amendment. Bringing back up Obamacare might make these independents and moderate Democrats turn to Romney to replace the bill.
All this allows the Romney campaign to actually get an advantage from selecting Ryan instead of a disadvantage as some first suggested. Medicare as an issue in the campaign to this point was playing right into the Democrats hands. But with Ryan’s selection Romney has turned the tables on them, at least for the first week. Now the question is whether they can continue to hold the advantage on the issue until November.