According to The Washington Post, tomorrow Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon are planning to jointly introduce a new plan to rein in Medicare’s costs without transitioning away from Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service model.
The Post’s report includes a brief description of what the reform would look like: it would add traditional Medicare to the private plans that would be subsidized by the government under the Ryan premium-support model. The subsidy would fluctuate based on medical costs, instead of being tied to GDP growth — which could result in the government being on the hook for higher spending. The plan would also include catastrophic coverage with capped out-of-pocket costs for seniors.
There is much more to be said about the desirability of a plan like this, although I’ll mention right off the bat that it would be a drastic improvement over the status quo.
Perhaps more importantly, however, are the politics of Ryan’s decision to partner with a Democrat on a more bipartisan proposal.
Ryan has spent the past two years establishing himself as, basically, the authority on conservative-minded fiscal reform, with the Roadmap for America’s Future and its successor, the Pathway to Prosperity. It was an uphill battle, but eventually almost every Republican in the House and Senate voted to enact Ryan’s Medicare reform plan, essentially validating and endorsing Ryan.
They took an enormous political risk in doing so, by exposing themselves to the Democratic criticism that they voted to end or cut Medicare in the next election.
Now Ryan has taken the political capital he earned and spent it on a bipartisan proposal, joining with a solidly liberal senator. Ryan’s new plan supercedes his previous budget, thereby, presumably, bringing a ton of Republican support with it — Ryan is now an authority, after all. It also undercuts the Democrats’ planned attacks on Republican support for the old Ryan plan, because it’s now genuinely bipartisan. In other words, one key feature of the political terrain has been shifted around.