Republicans fret over impact of Medicare, Paul Ryan on presidential race

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14 2012 1:50 p.m. MDT

Rep. Paul Ryan

Associated Press

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After the initial enthusiasm about the boldness of Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as running mate, Republican pundits and consultants early this week began voicing measured concerns that the Medicare front may not be where the battle should be joined for November.

In an article based entirely on anonymous sources, Politico reported on Tuesday that many key Republican consultants in Washington are nervous about Ryan and the Medicare distraction, while some are downright despondent and resigned.

The concern is that Ryan's aggressive work on reforming unsustainable entitlement spending will become a shouting match that distracts focus from the sluggish economy and leaves voters concerned and fearful of change, especially elderly voters.

Not everyone is gun-shy on the issue. At the Weekly Standard, Jeff Anderson went the opposite direction, arguing that a battle on the details can be won with a two-part "counterpunch."

Anderson's first swing emphasizes that Obama has shown "appallingly little seriousness in dealing with our runaway deficit spending or the runaway entitlement spending that drives it."

The second swing would argue that Obama's plan to contain Medicare costs involves a price control board that would "ration" access by limiting payments to providers.

But the difficulty facing Anderson is captured in a weird exchange between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Blitzer tries repeatedly to get Schulz to acknowledge that the Ryan Medicare plan would only affect those 55 or below, but Schulz doggedly insists the contrary.

The fear of GOP operatives interviewed by Politico is that this kind of strategically muddied water leaves elderly voters confused and fearful. If Blitzer could not even get Schulz to stipulate a simple fact, then how does a complicated argument like Ryan's get traction?

In a rare moment of caution, the firebrand Patrick Buchanan urged on FoxNews that the Obama campaign wants a scrum over "the details of Medicare," which would leave "some seniors frightened and demoralized."

"I would wait to have that (conversation) until the spring when you've got the White House," Buchannan said, arguing that an argument on the "details of Medicare" plays into the hands of the Obama campaign.

A relieved Byron York at the Washington Examiner called to keep the focus on jobs. "President Obama and his allies intend to bash the Republican ticket early and often about the Ryan plan," York wrote. "How much Romney and Ryan succeed in fighting Medicare to a draw and keeping the main focus on jobs will probably determine who wins the election."

One who is at least keeping a game face on the issue is Paul Lindsay, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, who told Erin McPike at RealClearPolitics that Medicare is a winning hand.

“When voters hear our side of the story," Lindsay said, "it’s a compelling one and an argument that we can win.” He added that House Republicans have been battling it out on this issue for the past 18 months.

“Medicare’s going broke, Democrats are making it worse; they cut $700 billion from Medicare and are now going to empower a board of bureaucrats to make health-care decisions for seniors,” Lindsay said.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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