Columns » John Brummett

The audacity of Paul Ryan's whining



At some point if the nation is to solve its problems, one of the political parties is going to have to forgo getting revenge for the preceding rhetorical dishonesty of the other. The cycle must be broken.

But U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's audacious whining to President Obama last week in the White House presented neither the best time nor the best place.

Obama can turn the cheek another day.

Ryan got his feelings hurt that the White House called his Medicare-ending voucher plan a Medicare-ending voucher plan. So, in what Republicans called a dramatic moment, he confronted the president in Obama's gathering Wednesday at the White House with Republican House members.

Ryan asked the president to stop misrepresenting his plan.

Obama was said to have chuckled that he knew a little about misrepresentations and to have acknowledged that we need cooperation on entitlement reform.

Later his press spokesman, Jay Carney, said the White House calls Ryan's plan a voucher plan because that's what it is.

Indeed, Ryan would end government single-pay health insurance for persons reaching retirement age 10 years from now. He would direct these seniors-to-be into the private health insurance marketplace where they would get their insurance subsidized by a government payment based on a sliding scale according to personal means.

That's a voucher. It's every bit as much a voucher as a government payment to a private school toward the admission of an underprivileged student.

But Republicans don't like the word — voucher — even as they have long championed it in precise terms for education. For Medicare, they prefer "premium support." This probably has to do with some Frank Luntz focus group.

Ryan's plan is much more thoroughly a voucher system than the federal tax on estates is a death tax, to cite a long-deft Republican trick. An estate tax is merely a reduction in the very highest margins of the very highest inheritances. The dead guy does not pay. He is gone. His lucky heirs get a little less of a lot.

As it happens, Ryan also challenged the president for having said in speeches, one of which Ryan was forced to sit through, that House Republicans risked putting old people in the street and lopping off vital aid for disadvantaged and sick children.

Ryan had more of a point there. At the least, the president was guilty of exaggeration and of scare tactics.

But Ryan was making this point to a man whom Republicans have called a socialist and a Muslim and a non-citizen.

He was making it to a man whose health care reform bill the Republicans called "government-run" when it plainly is to be privately run.

He was making it to a man whose own proposed cuts in Medicare, a government-run health care plan that Republicans defended only months ago when it suited their purposes, got subjected to the vicious lie that they would entail "death panels" that would decide which sick old people to let die in order to stay within the budget.

It's hard to say you're sorry for an ugly exaggeration when you've endured so much more of the same, and worse.

What we need is a mediator and arbiter to say it's time for simultaneous mutual consent by which both sides would stop whining about past lies and stop countering those old lies with new ones.

Only the American people, whatever adults are among them, stand in a position to insist on, and impose, this mediation and arbitration. It's up to them.

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