Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) is punching back at his critics. In a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago this afternoon, he will mount a strong defense of his budget.
Ryan’s Windy City rebuttal will follow a week of heated debate on Capitol Hill over the political ramifications of his plan. Democrats have ripped the House GOP budget — which would gradually shift Medicare toward a premium-support model — as an attack upon seniors.
Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, will offer a swift rebuke to those who have slammed his proposal, which passed with near-total Republican support.
“Our budget makes no changes for those in or near retirement, and offers future generations a strengthened Medicare program they can count on, with guaranteed coverage options, less help for the wealthy, and more help for the poor and the sick,” Ryan will say, according to prepared remarks. “Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient providers. Their plan is to give government the power to deny care to seniors.”
Ryan’s pushback is the latest salvo in the battle over entitlements. Democrats and their union allies have been brutal, urging seniors to bully Ryan and House Republicans about their commitment to the elderly. Town-hall meetings during the spring congressional recess were beset by camera-toting progressive activists who attempted to capture unrest.
As Ryan deflects the Left’s arrows, he is more than aware that the fight is far from finished. In upstate New York’s 26th congressional district, for instance, which will hold a special election on May 24, Democrats have framed the race as a referendum on the Wisconsin Republican’s fiscal agenda. Liberal interest groups and Democratic operatives have poured thousands of dollars into the contest, hoping to cast the Ryan budget as political poison.
Republicans have also raised concerns. On Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who announced a presidential bid last week, warned against “right-wing social engineering” and dubbed Ryan’s budget “too big a jump.”
Sources close to Ryan tell National Review Online that Ryan is aware of the scattered GOP grumbles, but remains focused on drawing a contrast with President Obama. “Paul Ryan will head to the president’s backyard on Monday to advance a budget debate the American people deserve,” says one source in his camp. “While sharpening the contrast with the president on taxes, spending, and Medicare, Ryan will focus his remarks on how to spur economic growth.”
A key passage will underscore Ryan’s disgust with class-warfare politics. “Class warfare may be clever politics, but it is terrible economics,” the congressman will say. “Social unrest and class envy make America weaker, not stronger. Playing one group against another only distracts us from the true sources of inequity in this country — corporate welfare that enriches the powerful and empty promises that betray the powerless.”
“If we succumb to this view that our problems are bigger than we are — if we surrender more control over our economy to the governing class — then we are choosing shared scarcity over renewed prosperity, and managed decline over economic growth,” Ryan continues. “That’s the real class warfare that threatens us: a class of governing elites picking winners and losers, and determining our destinies for us.”
Ryan will argue that entitlement reform deserves more than Beltway sniping. The cold reality of Medicare’s books backs him up: Late last week, the Medicare trustees reported that the program faces a dire financial future. By 2024, according to the group, Medicare’s hospital-insurance trust fund will be empty. Last year, it was reported that the fund had until 2029 before it was exhausted.
House Republicans echoed Ryan’s themes in a letter to President Obama last week. A group of 42 first-term lawmakers called for an end to “playing politics with key issues facing our country.” In the GOP’s weekly televised address on Saturday, Rep. Martha Roby (R., Ala.), a freshman, offered more support.
Ryan’s speech, however, will address more than the politics of his budget’s Medicare package. He will use the opportunity to make a broader case for pro-growth policies.
“We face a choice between two futures,” Ryan will say, as he details the mounting federal deficit. “We can continue to go down the path toward shared scarcity, or we can choose the path of renewed prosperity. The question before us is simple: Which path will our generation choose?”
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.