Party of Ideas vs. Party of Rhetoric

Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal have something in common. Yes, both are Republicans who have been spoken about in the context of a run for president in 2016. But they have something else in common, something more. And that thing is what makes them unique among presidential contenders.

Both Jindal and Ryan have moved past the rhetoric and posturing of regular partisan politics and put actual ideas out for proposed legislation.

For Ryan this is nothing new, as his “Path to Prosperity” budgets have made their regular annual appearance. This year was no different. The House budget chairman did not disappoint, presenting a plan that addresses the government’s issues of sustainability. Leaving almost no area of the budget untouched, Ryan offered a bold vision that radically remakes many government entitlement programs.

For Jindal, this foray into the arena of ideas was his first on so grand a scale. His policy shop, America Next, issued a plan he proposed to replace Obamacare. In line with his exhortation that Republicans should no longer be the “stupid party,” the governor of Louisiana offered smart ideas that would solve the issues Obamacare was meant to address but failed to solve.

Immediately after these plans were presented, the Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media came out in full attack mode, determined to mitigate any political advantage these plans may give the Republican Party. For Ryan, this is nothing new. In May 2011, after he released the first version of “The Path to Prosperity” which sought to make Medicare solvent by switching from defined benefit to premium support, the Agenda Project Action Fund, a progressive group, released an ad that featured a Ryan lookalike throwing an old woman off a cliff.

This despite the fact that the Ryan plan would provide what amounts to more or less the same standard of care for seniors, just changing the way it is paid for.

Defined benefit, the current system, means that the government pays healthcare providers directly. The government also sets the level of reimbursement. Medicare reimbursement rates are almost 40% lower than those of private insurance, in effect guaranteeing Medicare patients substandard care.

With premium support, which Ryan is proposing, Medicare would be changed to an entitlement program. The government would subsidize special private insurance plans by paying a substantial part of the premium. This would result in Medicare beneficiaries getting a higher standard of care. It would also address the solvency issues plaguing the current Medicare system.

And that’s the point. The way these programs are currently structured leads us down the path of what Rep. Ryan calls “the most predictable economic crisis of our time.” Already in 2011, the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees in their annual reports said that “projected long-run program costs of both Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable under currently scheduled financing, and will require legislative corrections if disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers are to be avoided. The financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare should be addressed soon. If action is taken sooner rather than later, more options and more time will be available to phase in changes so that those affected can adequately be prepared.”

But instead of trying to meet the challenge of our time, and actually take care of America’s current and future seniors, Democrats choose demagoguery and distortion of Republican ideas. Ryan’s attempt to change Medicare to a model that can actually sustain itself is called by the left “ending Medicare as we know it”; apparently they would rather just let Medicare as we know it end itself.

The same is true of Jindal’s Obamacare replacement plan. Immediately after its release, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote a piece titled, “Bobby Jindal Will Take Away Your Insurance, and He’ll Enjoy Doing It.” Why? Because his plan calls for full repeal of the “Affordable” Care Act before his ideas can be put into place.

The left points at polling data that shows that most Americans don’t favor full repeal of Obamacare, they just want the system fixed. But I wonder how many would favor full repeal if Obamacare were immediately replaced by a plan that included a way for those with pre-existing conditions to get coverage, and to keep children on their parents’ plans past the age of 21.

Jindal’s plan includes both of these features.

It is easy to fall prey to the left’s scare tactics about Republican plans. For example, some see in the Ryan budget changes to entitlements and benefits that currently help many in our community. They therefore buy the line that “Ryan’s budget is bad for our community.”

But think:

First, a change in the way a benefit is structured does not have to have an adverse effect on its recipient. Changing Medicare from defined benefit to premium support is an example. The means-tested (based on income) benefit means that the government will pay a greater share of the premium for private insurance for those with lower incomes, and the insurance would be worth more than current Medicare coverage. Is the fact that those who are better off get less support for their premiums a reason to say the plan is no good?

Second, the fact is that the country cannot continue on its current fiscal path. At a certain point the debt crisis will require all benefits to be subject to deep and drastic cuts. Reworking the system now will mean less pain later.

But making difficult decisions is, well, difficult when all you think about is politics. When President Bush tried to change (to save) Social Security in his second term, he was met by strong resistance from liberals — chief among them House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. In 2006, TIME wrote:

Pelosi has embraced hard-knuckle partisanship, even if it means standing still. When Bush announced his Social Security plan last year, Pelosi told House Democrats they could never beat him in a straight-ahead, policy-against-policy debate because he had the megaphone of the presidency and was just coming off re-election. So the Democrats would thunderously attack Bush and argue there was no Social Security crisis and therefore no need for them to put out their own proposal. Some members were leery, concerned that Pelosi would make the Democrats look like the Party of No. As the spring of 2005 wore on, some pestered her every week, asking when they were going to release a rival plan. “Never. Is never good enough for you?”

The Democrats’ own big policy initiative (Obamacare) couldn’t deliver on its promises. Premiums are up, millions of health insurance plans have been canceled, and people can’t keep their doctors. But the Democrats continue to obstruct the Republicans, trying to prevent better ideas from being put on the table.

Is your healthcare better than it was four years ago? Will anyone be allowed to fix it? It doesn’t look promising as long as politics continues to trump common sense.