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After GOP wins, Paul Ryan puts Medicare in the crosshairs

With Republicans poised to dominate the levers of power, the House Speaker has put Medicare privatization high on the GOP's to-do list.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, June 2, 2016, in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Andy Manis/AP)
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, June 2, 2016, in Janesville, Wis.
After the 2004 presidential election, Republicans were right where they wanted to be. A GOP president had narrowly prevailed, and he was eager to work with a House and Senate that were also controlled by his own party. And what was one of the top priorities for this ascendant Republican Party? At the time, it was privatization of Social Security.This did not go over well. The public was not on board with the plan -- many voters said it wasn't what they had in mind when they voted for Republican candidates -- and the privatization push not only failed, it sparked a rather intense backlash.Twelve years after the last GOP sweep, Republicans are once again poised to take control of entire federal government, party leaders are establishing their new goals, and privatizing a popular social-insurance program is once again a top priority. In fact, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told Fox News' Bret Baier yesterday that Medicare privatization is high on the party's to-do list. New York's Jon Chait explained:

"Your solution has always been to put things together, including entitlement reform," asks Baier, using Republican code for privatizing Medicare. Ryan replies, "If you're going to repeal and replace Obamacare, you have to address those issues as well.... Medicare has got some serious issues because of Obamacare. So those things are part of our plan to replace Obamacare."Ryan tells Baier, "Because of Obamacare, Medicare is going broke."

This is critically important, in part because Ryan is brazenly lying. The budgetary reality, whether Republicans like it or not, is that the Affordable Care Act improved Medicare's financial stability, extending the system's solvency by more than a decade. There's an inside-the-Beltway assumption that when it comes to fiscal arithmetic, Ryan can be trusted to get the numbers right. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.But in this case, it's also worth appreciating why Ryan is so shamelessly trying to deceive the public.Throughout the Obama era, Ryan has pushed a radical budget plan that would effectively eliminate the Medicare system, phasing it out of existence and replacing it with a voucher system. Seniors, under the Speaker's vision, would stop receiving guaranteed care under a popular and effective government-run program, and would instead receive vouchers that would help pay for coverage through private insurers.Ryan has been an enthusiastic proponent of such a scheme throughout his career -- long before "Obamacare" became the law of the land. Now, however, the Wisconsin congressman seems to think he can use the ACA as an excuse to do what he's wanted to do anyway for nearly a decade. In other words, Ryan's message for years has been, "I want to privatize Medicare." Now, his message has become, "It's Obamacare's fault that we have to privatize Medicare."But we don't. The Speaker is plainly and demonstrably wrong. Repealing the Affordable Care Act wouldn't help Medicare's finances; it would do the exact opposite, pushing the Medicare system closer to insolvency.Telling the truth, however, wouldn't help advance the plan Ryan has long advocated, so he's using "Obamacare" as a convenient fig leaf.The broader question remains who, exactly, the House Speaker is trying to convince. Clearly, one of the intended audiences of Ryan's falsehood is the public, which has little appetite for his Medicare privatization plan. But let's not forget that the Speaker may also be trying to convince a man by the name of Donald Trump -- who's at least paid lip service to the idea that Medicare needs to remain intact.Will the incoming president reverse course and endorse his party's Medicare privatization scheme? It's hard to say for sure -- because no one asked Trump during the campaign for his thoughts on Ryan's budget blueprint.