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.

Jewish organizations have spoken out against Ryan’s proposals, which would affect many seniors in the community. The federation system of Jewish social service agencies that serve many of those seniors also relies heavily on funding from Medicare and Medicaid to do so.

Last April, the Jewish Federations of North America, a community umbrella organization, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs wrote a letter to members of Congress, urging them to oppose reforms such as those offered by Ryan. “Major entitlement programs,” the letter stated, “protect the health and economic security of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Wyden declined to make himself available to the Forward for comment on how his Jewish values have interacted with his thinking on Medicare.

As for Ryan, he, too, took a stance opposed to the consensus position of his faith — though, the church being the church, that consensus is officially articulated by its religious leadership. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reacting to Ryan’s remark that his budget proposals were shaped by his Catholic beliefs, sent a letter to Congress, arguing that the plans fails to meet “moral criteria” because of the cuts it proposes to programs serving the poor and vulnerable.

Ryan’s views on abortions and religious rights are in full accord with those of the Catholic Church, but on economic issues the church leadership in the United States has traditionally supported a robust social safety net.

For Wyden, joining forces with Ryan to compose the Medicare reform proposals later known as the Ryan-Wyden plan was an opportunity to offer a practical solution for an entitlement program whose costs are growing out of control. “Wyden-Ryan doesn’t privatize Medicare because Medicare beneficiaries already have the option of enrolling in private health insurance plans,” Wyden argued in an article published in March. “Wyden-Ryan makes those private plans more robust and accountable by forcing them to — for the first time — compete directly with traditional Medicare.”

Wyden has focused much of the work he does on Capitol Hill on tackling health care issues and working for seniors, a passion he’s been carrying since his early years in public service. He strongly supported President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and, despite his Medicare reform work with Ryan, he ended up voting against Ryan’s broad budget plan, of which the Medicare reform was a part.


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