Ryan: ‘Leaders Change the Polls’

by Andrew Stiles

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) re-upped his defense of the House Republican budget today on Meet the Press, calling out critics for their continued failure to produce a plan of their own.

He began by responding to the controversial comments made by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on last week’s show, calling his remarks “deeply inaccurate” and “a gross mischaracterization of the House Republican budget plan,” but acknowledging that Gingrich had since retracted and apologized for what he said. The notion that the House Republican plan is “radical” or “social engineering” of some kind could not be further from the truth, Ryan explained.

“Let’s be clear about what we’re proposing here,” he said. “This is as sensible and gradual as it gets. We’re saying no changes for Medicare for people at or above the age of 55. In order to keep the promise to current seniors who have already retired and organized their lives around this program, you have to reform it for the next generation.”

Ryan and House Republicans propose to achieve this by transitioning to a “premium support” model, modeled on the recommendations put forward by a bipartisan commission under President Bill Clinton. “We’re saying: do not affect current seniors, give future seniors the ability to deny business to inefficient providers,” he explained. “By contrast, the President’s plan is to give government the power to deny care to seniors by empowering a panel of 15 unelected bureaucrats to put price controls and rationing in place for current seniors.”

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have proposed… absolutely nothing, having gone more than 750 days now without passing a budget. Ryan pointed out that those who have yet to put forward a viable alternate plan are in no position to criticize the Republican budget. “I have no problems with somebody who is offering alternative solutions,” he said. “I have problems with people who aren’t offering any solutions and are just playing politics.”

Ryan said he understood the political magnitude of the changes he was proposing, and admitted that both parties have engaged in senseless demagoguery when it comes to entitlements, particularly Medicare. But the stakes are too high to continue to play that game. “If we allow politics to get the best of us and if we allow the demagoguery to sink in and do nothing, then we will have a debt crisis, then current seniors will get hurt. So who’s being rational and responsible here?” 

But that’s not to say his plan is a “take it or leave it” proposal. Ryan said he was “absolutely” willing to negotiate on Medicare reform, but at this point no one else seems prepared to do so. “We’re offering details,” he said. “We have no partners on the other side of aisle offering anything but misleading scare tactics.”

Ryan dismissed polling data indicating significant opposition to his Medicare proposal, arguing that when the plan is described accurately, it is far more more popular. “More importantly,” he said, “leaders are elected to lead.”

“I don’t consult polls to tell me what my principles are or what our policies should be,” he added. “Leaders change the polls.” 

And when it comes to seriously addressing the debt crisis, President Obama and the Democrats are certainly not leading. Ryan said he thinks the American public is “ahead of the political class” in this regard, and are ready to reward the party that leads on these critical issues. “No matter how much demagoguery, no matter how much distortion, no matter how much the other political party is going to try to scare seniors in the next election, I just don’t think they’re going to buy it this year.”

On the debt limit, Ryan reiterated the GOP position outlined by House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio). “For every dollar the President wants to raise the debt limit, we’re saying let’s cut more than a dollar’s worth of spending, he said. “We’ve laid out $6.2 trillion in spending cuts. So we can show the President plenty of ways to cut more than a dollar’s worth of spending.”

“Nobody wants default to happen, but at the same time we don’t want to rubber stamp a debt limit increase that shows we’re not getting our situation under control,” he added.

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