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.

In public comments he has made on the issue, Wyden explained that he still thought the ideas raised in his joint proposal with Ryan on Medicare would help save that program. But he adamantly opposed Ryan’s approach to Medicaid, which funds health care for low-income Americans, and nursing home costs for hundreds of thousands of middle-class elderly after they have spent down their assets. Ryan’s budget plan would have turned Medicaid into a “block grant” program — at substantially reduced levels — in which states could cut services for recipients. And Medicare reform, according to Wyden, could not survive without a viable Medicaid plan that would take care of the neediest seniors.

Wyden, 63, has been in Congress since 1981, first as a House member and for the past 12 years as senator from Oregon. His parents fled Nazi Germany and settled in Wichita, Kan., where Wyden was born. He grew up in California and entered politics at the age of 31. Ever since, Wyden has been known for his independent approach to party politics. While falling in line with the Democratic progressive camp on many issues, including staunch opposition to the Iraq War and support for abortion rights, he defied Democratic leadership in criticizing Obama’s stimulus plan and voting with Republicans on certain tax issues.

“Senator Wyden has always been supportive of issues that concern the Jewish community, and health care is one of them,” said Marc Blattner, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland. “But,” he added, “one of the things about Wyden is that he is always open to looking for solutions across the aisle.”

Blattner described Wyden as a frequent participant in Jewish events organized by the 45,000-member local community. He is also a regular at national Jewish gatherings and has been a strong supporter of Israel-related legislation endorsed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Romney’s selection of Ryan for the second spot on his ticket has turned the media’s klieg lights on Ryan’s call for Medicare reform. But while the Wisconsin Republican has enjoyed the attention, his former partner in shaping the plan now finds it a political liability.

Republicans, Romney included, have used Wyden’s past support for Ryan’s plan as a cover against Democratic attacks on the Medicare reform idea. Ryan, Romney said, has “found a Democrat to co-lead a piece of legislation.” In praising Ryan’s Medicare plan, Romney said Ryan and Wyden “have come together,” and this, according to the Republican candidate, “is the kind of bipartisanship we need more of, not less.”

An angry Wyden was quick to issue a statement calling Romney’s remarks “nonsense.” Wyden said he did not co-lead the legislation. He noted that eventually he voted against Ryan’s proposals. “Governor Romney needs to learn you don’t protect seniors by makings things up,” Wyden added, “and his comments today sure won’t help promote real bipartisanship.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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