WASHINGTON — Democrats on Sunday sought to highlight what they see as the radical and unpopular elements of newly minted vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan’s budget plans, while Republicans praised Ryan as a visionary who will tell the hard truths Americans want to hear.
The Ryan pick “clarifies the choice for the American people … in a way that is going to be helpful,” Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
And he added on ABC’s “This Week”: “It’s a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican party, but it’s one that should trouble everybody else — the middle class, seniors, students — because of Ryan’s record. He is a right-wing ideologue. … He’s the guy who’s the architect of a plan to end Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher program and shift thousands of dollars of costs onto senior citizens.”
Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, backs a budget plan that would cut taxes, significantly curb federal spending and change Medicare by introducing a voluntary voucher program that would give future seniors a fixed amount of money to buy private health insurance. GOP candidate Mitt Romney has praised Ryan’s plan in general without backing each specific.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a recall election last fall after enacting significant cuts and doing battle with public employee unions, called the Ryan pick “a game-changer.” He noted that Ryan has regularly won more than 60 percent of the vote in his Wisconsin district — a seat once held by liberal Democrat Les Aspin — despite advocating a major fiscal restructuring.
“Why?” Walker asked on “Meet the Press.” “Because people want the truth. … I think voters want leadership.”
Romney backers said his choice of Ryan suggested his willingness to be bold and compete in a battle of ideologies.
“The message is this is a big election. It’s about big issues. It’s about big ideas,” said Romney adviser Ed Gillespie on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re not going to be distracted by the little things.”
Democrats celebrated, because they think Ryan’s ideas are bad and they know that polls show some of them are unpopular.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey in June 2011 found that 58 percent of Americans opposed the idea of turning Medicare into a voucher program, with 35 percent supporting. Three-quarters of the elderly disapproved, as did 54 percent of conservatives.
“Paul Ryan has embraced an extremist proposal that … cuts so much it would risk slowing and even stalling our recovery,” said Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman.
Reince Priebus of Wisconsin, the Republican National Committee chairman, countered that Republicans are trying to figure out how to save Medicare and Social Security and that on entitlements, “The president does a lot of talking … but he does nothing.”
Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who was passed over by Romney in favor of Ryan, said on ABC that “Congressman Ryan and Gov. Romney have put together a plan that actually tackles the problem in specific (it) preserves Medicare … for people who are already on the program but begins to change it in needed and realistic ways for the next-generation. Unlike the president, they’re actually willing to lead, actually willing to put meat on the bones and put specific proposals on the table.”
Responded Axelrod, “There’s no doubt that we got to do more, but the question is are you going to do it in a way that preserves the program and the access to care that seniors need, or are you going to turn it into a voucher program with ever decreasing value of the vouchers relative to health care costs and throw seniors onto the tender mercies of the private insurance market. The question is: Do you really believe in Medicare?”