Dems, allies firmly reject Paul Ryan's new Medicare reform plan

Democrats and their allies quickly united against the Medicare proposal introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

As he introduced the plan Thursday morning, Wyden insisted that there was plenty for Democrats to support. But lawmakers, the White House and healthcare interest groups took a hard line against the proposal, even linking it to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Democrats have held a political advantage on Medicare since early this year, when Ryan proposed ending the existing program and moving seniors into private insurance. And though some Democrats were clearly frustrated with Wyden, they said his partnership with Ryan would not threaten their political strategy.

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A Democratic campaign aide said the party won’t alter its attacks on GOP members who voted for the original Ryan plan. And though Wyden is regarded as a healthcare wonk, he did not bring substantial bipartisan support to Ryan’s proposal.

“It’s one senator,” a House Democratic aide said.

Wyden argued Thursday morning that the new plan reflects Democrats’ top priority — leaving the existing Medicare program intact. But party leaders blasted the proposal in no uncertain terms.


White House press secretary Jay Carney called the plan “radical” and noted that Ryan and Wyden still have to fill in key details about how to control costs without pushing them on to seniors.

Overall, despite the bipartisan hoopla surrounding the announcement, reaction to the Wyden-Ryan outline fell mostly along the same partisan lines as the original Ryan plan. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Gingrich both praised the new proposal. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said only that it’s a step in the right direction.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged that the plan shows Republicans want Medicare to “wither on the vine,” quoting remarks Gingrich made in 1995 about how Medicare would fare if faced with competition from private insurers. The White House also invoked Gingrich’s quote in a statement opposing the Wyden-Ryan proposal.

“We are concerned that Wyden-Ryan, like Congressman Ryan’s earlier proposal, would undermine, rather than strengthen, Medicare,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement. “The Wyden-Ryan scheme could, over time, cause the traditional Medicare program to ‘wither on the vine’ because it would raise premiums, forcing many seniors to leave traditional Medicare and join private plans.”

Some congressional Democrats were upset with Wyden, saying he risked providing cover for Ryan’s unpopular Medicare plan. 

Rep. Pete Stark (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Health subcommittee, said the substance of the new proposal is no better than Ryan's earlier effort.

"Despite Wyden's claims otherwise, the Wyden-Ryan plan ends Medicare as we know it, plain and simple," Stark said in a statement.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he had not fully reviewed the proposal but that the premium support model, in general, often threatens seniors with higher costs.

“I have serious doubts about what they’re proposing,” Waxman said.