WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration expressed concern Thursday over the bipartisan Medicare reform proposal that has been hammered out between Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), saying it believes the plan could weaken the program.
"We are concerned that Wyden-Ryan, like Congressman Ryan’s earlier proposal, would undermine, rather than strengthen, Medicare," said White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. "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. And it would shift costs from the government to seniors. At the end of the day, this plan would end Medicare as we know it for millions of seniors. Wyden-Ryan is the wrong way to reform Medicare."
The statement makes valid policy points that other health care reform groups were expressing the day after the Wyden-Ryan model was laid out. That said, what the duo is attempting to do -- turn Medicare into a premium support system that also preserves the current model -- resembles some of the very reforms that President Obama instituted into the health care system at large (albiet without a public option-like choice for consumers, which traditional Medicare would be under Wyden-Ryan).
It is also clear, however, that the new bipartisan model has the potential to cause major political headaches for both parties -- particularly Democrats.
Ryan's original plan, which turned Medicare into a voucher system, was widely unpopular and served as an anchor around the neck of virtually every Republican. And while GOP lawmakers still have to explain the votes they cast for it, they can now make the argument that the party's point person on the issue has moved on to friendlier turf.
For Democrats, Wyden's work with Ryan is giving Republicans cover on an issue that seemed destined to hurt their congressional reelection chances. Not only that, it aids former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both presidential candidates who have proposed hybrid approaches to Medicare reform similar to what Wyden and Ryan are introducing. It's telling, indeed, that the White House used Gingrich's famous "wither on the vine" line to characterize the approach.
“For starters, this is bad policy and a complete political loser," said a senior Democratic Congressional aide. "On top of the terrible politics, they even admit that it dismantles Medicare but achieves no budgetary savings while doing so -- the worst of all worlds. Thanks for nothing.”
UPDATE: Paul Ryan's office responds with a statement to the Washington Examiner that calls the president "increasingly isolated" from the "bipartisan consensus."
I am grateful to have a partner in my friend Senator Wyden, as we work together to create space for bipartisan solutions to address our nation’s most pressing challenges. It is disappointing to find the President of the United States increasingly isolated from this growing bipartisan consensus on efforts to save and strengthen our critical health and retirement security programs. The President’s failure to offer credible solutions to the challenges facing Medicare is a disservice to seniors, a disservice to hardworking families, and a disservice to the next generation. A more glaring disappointment is the President’s failure to recognize a sincere effort by a Democrat and a Republican to come together and offer solutions, betraying his own rhetoric and his own commitment to those we have the privilege to serve. America deserves better.