Sen. Wyden touts Ryan Medicare shift as win for Democrats

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) touted House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s shift from his previous Medicare proposal as a win for Democrats.

“No one ducks their previous votes or their past statements,” Wyden told reporters after introducing his new Medicare reform proposal with Ryan at a Thursday event sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Democrats have made the Ryan plan a centerpiece of their political campaigns.

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Wyden said he and Ryan (R-Wis.) want to move past the divisive politics of healthcare. But he said Republicans can’t walk away from their support for Ryan’s proposal to end the existing Medicare program.



The Medicare proposal that Wyden and Ryan released Thursday would give seniors a choice between Medicare and private insurance, a departure from Ryan’s earlier proposal to privatize the entire program. 



“Traditional Medicare will always be part of this program,” Wyden said.



The two lawmakers said both parties have been on the receiving end of intense healthcare attacks — over President Obama’s healthcare law and Ryan’s Medicare proposal — and cast their proposal an effort to start a new conversation.



Some Democrats and liberal analysts accused Wyden of undermining Democrats' political strategy by signing on to a plan that moves Medicare further into the private sector.

“I don’t know why Ron Wyden is giving cover” to Ryan, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) told Bloomberg News.

The leading Republican presidential candidates, meanwhile, praised the plan, which tracks more closely with their proposals than the original Ryan plan did.

 Ryan and Wyden’s plan would shift Medicare into a system with strong similarities to President Obama’s healthcare law, but with a public option. 



“Try not to use those words,” Ryan joked when Wyden made the comparison to a public option.



Seniors would buy coverage through a Medicare exchange, and plans could not deny seniors coverage. The new proposal also would require private Medicare plans to be just as comprehensive as Medicare.



The lawmakers said Thursday that they realize their proposal won’t become law any time soon — they haven’t even put it in legislative language yet — but said they felt it was important to put something out before the 2012 elections.



“This proposal is about the proposition that there’s a window of opportunity here, a chance to change the conversation,” Wyden said.