Voters split on Ryan plan

Republican primary voters are evenly split on the Medicare aspects of Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump vows to stand with House GOP '1,000 percent' on immigration Heckler yells ‘Mr. President, f--- you’ as Trump arrives at Capitol Hoyer: GOP centrists 'sold out' Dreamers MORE’s (R-Wis.) budget plan, with 41 percent supporting it and 43 percent opposing it, according to a national telephone poll I conducted on June 18-19 among 700 likely Republican primary voters.

Asked if they would support the plan of “Republican Congressman Paul Ryan … to cut the federal deficit sharply by cutting federal spending in every area except Social Security,” Republican primary voters overwhelmingly (60-16) answered yes.

But when pressed about the Medicare aspects of the plan, they expressed far more doubt. Told that “part of the plan calls for replacing Medicare for those now under the age of 55 with a program where the government would give each senior a flat amount for medical care and they would buy their own health insurance,” 41 percent supported the idea while 43 percent were opposed.

Respondents differed in their responses based on their ages, with voters 18-39 approving the Medicare changes by 48-39, those 40-64 opposing it by 40-46, and voters 65 and over opposing it by 38-44. 

But the sharpest differences were between the genders. Men backed the plan by 49-37 while women opposed it by 33-53.

The survey’s findings suggest that even among the base Republican voters, the Ryan plan is vulnerable to attack on the Medicare issue.

However, voters strongly supported an alternative to the Ryan plan that would combine its flat fee approach with a safety net feature to protect against catastrophic illness. This additional feature might well provide a way for House Republicans to mute the potential of this issue as a negative in the 2012 elections.

Told that “some say that a better plan would be to use the Ryan model of a flat payment but to include a safety net so that the government would pay all of a senior citizen’s medical costs if the illness was severe and their health insurance coverage would not pay for it,” Republican primary voters approved of the alternative plan by 53-29. Men agreed by 58-28 and women overcame their opposition to the Ryan plan, agreeing with the new proposal by 49-29.

The safety net feature might be patterned after that included by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) in his program for state workers. Under the governor’s program, the state pays its workers a flat amount for medical care (about $3,000 a year) and agrees to pay for a sliding-scale share of costs over that amount until it pays all of the costs if they exceed a certain level. State workers can keep any unspent portion of the $3,000.

The survey’s findings contradict the prevailing wisdom in some Republican circles that opposition to the Medicare features of the Ryan plan would alienate GOP primary voters. Ever since the defeat of the Republican in the New York state special election, Democrats have eagerly anticipated using the Ryan Medicare program as an issue against Republicans in the 2012 elections. For their part, Republicans, squirming under the apparent force of this issue, have wondered if there was a way out. The survey would appear to offer an option that could defuse the issue while, at the same time, maintaining the thrust of the Ryan plan to reduce the contribution of Medicare costs to the budget deficit.

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of Outrage, Fleeced, 
Catastrophe and 2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or to order a signed copy of their latest book, Revolt!: How 
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