The Liberal Who Worked With Paul Ryan

Will Sen. Ron Wyden's Cross-the-Aisle Plan Haunt Democrats?

By Nathan Guttman

Published August 16, 2012, issue of August 24, 2012.
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Unlikely Partners: Liberal Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Republican Paul Ryan worked closely on the Ryan Medicare plan. Mitt Romney has already sought to use Wyden as political cover on the issue.
roll call
Unlikely Partners: Liberal Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Republican Paul Ryan worked closely on the Ryan Medicare plan. Mitt Romney has already sought to use Wyden as political cover on the issue.

One Jewish Democrat’s attempt to reach across the aisle is now coming back to haunt him, as political rivals cite Senator Ron Wyden’s work with Paul Ryan as a sign of bipartisan endorsement for the new Republican vice presidential candidate’s ideas.

Wyden, Oregon’s senior senator, is a liberal known to break party ranks for causes close to his heart and was the only Democrat to partner last year with Ryan in an attempt to reform Medicare, the entitlement program providing health care for nearly 50 million seniors. Now, however, Wyden is seeking to distance himself from the proposal put out by Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Nevertheless, Wyden does not contest that their joint effort saw him working closely with Ryan for months on an issue both saw as crucial for their own reasons. And beyond this, there is something else that joins them that neither would likely be eager to acknowledge.

In their willingness to partner across party lines on Medicare, Ryan, who is Catholic, and Wyden also challenged the consensus positions of their respective faith communities, both of which oppose cutting health care plans for the elderly.

“Although many of us had very positive interactions with Senator Wyden, his position on this issue was out of sync with the community and with the majority of community organizations,” said Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc, a liberal Jewish advocacy organization.

Polling data support the notion that American Jews are not open to cutting government investment in Medicare. A 2005 wide-ranging survey found Jews to be the religious group most supportive of increasing government spending on health care. In more recent polls, Jews placed their concern over health care as one of the top factors in deciding who should get their vote.

According to the plan presented by Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, instead of having the government pay for seniors’ health care costs through Medicare, they will be provided with vouchers to use for purchasing medical insurance from either Medicare or private insurers. But the vouchers are not designed to keep up with annual health insurance premium increases over time. And the costs that exceed the allowance would come out of the seniors’ pockets. The rationale behind Ryan’s plan was to introduce competitiveness into the program in the hope that it would decrease costs and rein in the growing expense of health plans.


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