The Paul Ryan budget is proving a difficult issue for Republicans across the spectrum to discuss. If you back it, you take a barrage of hits from Democrats for its plan to “essentially end Medicare,” a potential death sentence in a tough race or if you have national ambitions. But if you vocally oppose it, a la Newt Gingrich, the base’s wrath comes instantly crashing down on you. Fortunately for fence-sitting politicians there are ways to create some wiggle room without getting trapped in either camp. Here’s a handy guide for how to spin like a pro:
Rule #1: Paul Ryan Is Awesome
If you’re a Republican looking to avoid trouble from the right, this is the single most important thing to remember. Whether or not you agree with Paul Ryan’s plan, nothing is more dangerous than suggesting for even a second that you think he was wrong to put it forward or that he is threatening seniors. Newt Gingrich is hardly the only Republican to disagree with his Medicare plan but he’s suffered by far the most for his position in part because his comments were interpreted as an attack on Ryan, who is rapidly becoming a martyr figure on the right.
Instead, you could follow the example of Tim Pawlenty — who has not backed the Ryan plan — and praise the House budget chair for “offering real leadership in Washington.” Or you could take the Mitt Romney approach and praise Ryan for “setting the right tone.”
Calling him “courageous” never hurts, either.
Let’s Get This Conversation Started
You may not have come up with your own position on Medicare yet, but it’s important to tell everyone how stoked you are to finally talk about this important issue. If you get tough questions on how the Ryan plan would affect seniors, politely remind everyone that this is merely the start of an exciting conversation on entitlements that will surely address such concerns in the future.
For example, defeated candidate Jane Corwin in New York’s 26th district included various caveats about her support for the Ryan plan. “It’s starting a conversation that we absolutely have to have, but I’m not married to it,” Corwin told elderly voters recently. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a likely presidential candidate who voted for the Ryan budget, told FOX News there was an “asterisk” next to her support over the Medicare plan. “I’m wedded to the idea of efficiencies and cost cuttings and savings in healthcare, but how we get there is open to discussion,” she said.
If You Like Paul Ryan, You’ll Love My Vague And Unreleased Plan
Whatever you come up with on Medicare, be sure to position it as close to Ryan’s plan as possible. In Mitt Romney’s case, that means explaining how your unspecified Medicare proposal is “not going to be identical to the Ryan plan, but it shares many of those objectives,”and declaring that the two of you are “on the same page” when it comes to entitlements. Pawlenty told FOX’s Greta van Susteren this week that his own plan would have “many similarities to Paul’s.” This a great way to buy time while the public decides which parts of the GOP budget it can’t stand and would wreck your re-election prospects.
Paul Ryan For Some, Miniature American Flags For All
Want to give Paul Ryan a shout out but not have to deal with that whole “end Medicare” thing? Simply endorse making Ryan’s privatized voucher system optional! This has been Gingrich’s plan, which is similar to a proposal by think tankers Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin, and he’s not alone. In the Senate, Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has backed the Domenici/Rivlin idea, saying it would be “much like the Ryan bill but still have the fallback of a traditional Medicare benefit.” Tim Pawlenty is also a fan of this two-track approach.
Of course, making Ryan’s plan voluntary could dull its deficit-cutting blade and the Domenici/Rivlin proposal that keeps getting namechecked is far more generous with its benefits in the long term. Rivlin herself has made clear that her own plan is not compatible with Ryan’s largely because his cuts are so severe.
Actually, It’s The Democrats’ Plan
When all else fails, you can always try to change the subject by accusing the Democrats of making draconian cuts to Medicare. Corwin took this tack recently in NY-26, accusing her Democratic opponent — who ran entirely on a platform of defending Medicare from reductions to benefits — of backing cuts to entitlements based on a milquetoast quote from her in a debate saying “everything is on the table” in deficit talks. Rep. Ann Buerkle (R-NY) has also taken this approach, sending out a flyer bragging about how she voted to reverse Medicare cuts including in the Affordable Care Act … without mentioning that they were also in the Ryan budget she voted for.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.