WASHINGTON – Fifteen months after Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul walked into office after trampling Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, Ryan is the Republican nominee for vice president – and Chris Collins, the Republican who aims to defeat Hochul in the fall, seems to not want to talk very much about Ryan or his proposed spending cuts.
Asked in a weekend telephone interview for his reaction to Ryan’s selection, Collins, the former Erie County executive, would not – even when asked again and again – endorse or even comment on Ryan’s budget, which would partly remake Medicare into a voucher program for future seniors while drastically cutting most domestic spending.
“I’m not going to get into a discussion now about a budget that may be passed next year with a new president and new Congress,” Collins said. “I’m not going to go back and relive any proposal in the past because they are in the past. All I’m saying is that I’ll never support cuts to Medicare for current seniors or anyone close to retirement age, including Medicare Advantage, which my opponent has actually voted to cut.”
For her part, though, Hochul – who insists she opposes those cuts in Medicare Advantage – was more than happy to roast Ryan’s plan yet again.
“Never should this country consider fundamentally changing Medicare in order to finance tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires,” as the Ryan spending plan would do, said Hochul, D-Hamburg. “We’re going to continue reminding people of that distinction.”
Expect to hear a lot of that argument in the next few months, both in the Hochul-Collins race in the new, heavily Republican 27th District and in congressional races all around the country.
“The Ryan budget could be a potent political weapon in the fall, and not just at the top of the ticket,” wrote Larry Sabato, a prominent University of Virginia political scientist, on his weekend “Crystal Ball” after GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney selected Ryan as his running mate.
The selection also gave Romney – and every Republican – another running mate: the Ryan budget. And if you believe the polls, it’s a document that’s not nearly as good-looking as the telegenic Wisconsin congressman who authored it.
Ryan’s budget would redraw Medicare, currently a government-run program, into a plan where seniors would have the option of getting a voucher from the government to go buy their own health care.
Designed to save the government money on a popular program that’s running out of money, the Ryan Medicare program boosts the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 in 2023. Moreover, critics argue the Ryan plan could push more health care costs onto seniors if it were, as proposed, to take effect in a decade.
Hence its unpopularity. Some 58 percent of people polled by Opinion Research Corp. for CNN last year opposed a voucher plan for Medicare, and a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released over the weekend showed that 79 percent of registered voters oppose reducing Medicare benefits.
In any case, Collins isn’t talking about the Ryan budget, a document he’s avoided endorsing since the start of his campaign.
Instead, he treated the Ryan budget – which the House passed for a second time this year – as a dusty relic unworthy of discussion.
“I don’t live in the past,” Collins said. “I live in the future. And I look forward to being part of that [budget] debate next January.”
Previously, though, Collins has said the Ryan budget does not go nearly far enough. Collins argues that the federal government should bring its budget into balance within 10 years – a third as long as it would take to balance the budget under the Ryan plan.
And on Medicare, Collins has wanted to talk about only one thing: the 10-year, $500 billion cut to subsidies for Medicare Advantage HMOs that’s included in the 2010 Obama health care law.
“I think as I’ve said many times, the one clear thing as I debate the issues with Kathy Hochul, who has voted to cut $500 billion out of Medicare for current seniors and effectively end Medicare Advantage as our seniors have come to depend on it,” Collins said. “I would never do anything like that.”
Collins was referring to Hochul’s recent vote against a bill that would have repealed the Obama health law, including its cuts to the Medicare Advantage plans. Despite Collins’ repeated claims to the contrary, local providers of Medicare Advantage plans have said they would continue to offer them despite the subsidy cuts.
Hochul has remained a reluctant supporter of the Obama health law, even while opposing the Medicare Advantage cuts. The Collins camp says that makes Hochul a hypocrite – but she said that’s exactly what Republicans are for in criticizing the Medicare Advantage cuts, which also are included in the Ryan budget.
“You cannot run from that fact,” she said. “Those cuts are also in the Ryan budget. Period. End.”
Hochul also stressed that the Ryan budget also includes deep cuts to farm programs, student loans, research and development and a host of other domestic programs that are important to the 27th District, which stretches from the southernmost and easternmost Buffalo suburbs all the way to the western Finger Lakes.
Already, she said, she’s getting some strong reactions to Ryan’s selection as Romney’s running mate. At Saturday’s bicentennial celebration in Alexander, in Genesee County, “someone came up to me and said: ‘They just don’t get it.’ It was a Republican who said: ‘Didn’t you win on those issues last year?’ I said, ‘Yes we did.’ He just kind of shook his head.”
Still, Ryan and other Republicans insist they’ve found ways to counter the message Hochul used so effectively in her special election victory over Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in May 2011.
In introducing Ryan on Saturday, Romney cited the same Medicare cuts Collins complained about and then some, noting that the total amount of future reductions to Medicare included in the Obama health care plan amounted to $700 billion.
And in a February breakfast with reporters, Ryan said the Republican Party had learned some lessons from the Medicare debate in last year’s Hochul-Corwin race.
“It was a shot across the bow,” Ryan said. “And the message of that race is: If you just play defense or ignore this, they’re going to define us. They’re going to demagogue you. And they’re going to get away with it.”
Democrats, however, insist that no Republican spin on Medicare cuts can ever make the Ryan budget smell any better.
In fact, Democratic politicos were downright ecstatic over the fact that Romney had picked Ryan.
“So this is what xmas morning feels like?” tweeted Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, shortly after Romney announced Ryan’s selection.