by Yuval Levin
Be sure to read Paul Ryan’s speech to the AARP’s national convention today — a clear and forthright elucidation of the case for saving Medicare and the federal budget through market-based reforms and against doubling down on failed central planning and price controls through Obamacare.
As he surely knew he would be, Ryan was met with some opposition (though also some support) in the audience, and boos could be heard at various points — particularly during his criticisms of Obamacare. That’s hardly surprising. The AARP sometimes presents itself as a kind of membership organization consisting of senior citizens, but it is basically a huge financial-services company with an enormous stake in the current design of the Medicare system (it makes about half a billion dollars in revenue each year endorsing and selling Medicare supplemental, Medicare Advantage, Medicare prescription drug, and long-term-care-insurance policies). It profits in particular from higher-premium Medicare supplemental coverage (because it receives a royalty fee on every dollar seniors spend on premiums for AARP-endorsed products), and so would be a major loser in a premium-support reform. The organization has therefore worked closely with Democrats to oppose such a reform, and in return has also been helpful to them in the broader health-care debate — lobbying in favor of Obamacare, for instance, despite the fact that it made major cuts in Medicare and despite the very evident opposition of AARP members. (This recent letter to the organization’s leadership from Republican members of the House lays out some of the staggering details of AARP’s cooperation with the White House on that front.)
But as Ryan went into detail and laid out the disaster that Obamacare spells for seniors and for the nation, the boos grew fewer and further between. It sometimes makes sense to make your case before a hostile audience. Ryan is an exceptionally capable advocate on this front — laying out in clear detail both the disastrous condition of our entitlement programs and the path to saving them and averting fiscal disaster. Mitt Romney has done a fine job of this too, when he has taken up the issue, and together they have gone a long way toward answering the Democrats’ usual Mediscare tactics. The Democrats haven’t stopped employing those tactics of course, as President Obama’s taped remarks to the AARP clearly show, but the Romney-Ryan counteroffensive has done a great deal to narrow the public-opinion gap on Medicare. They won’t win over the AARP, but they are winning seniors, and they can win even more of them.