Bill Clinton Rips Ryan Plan at Fiscal Summit
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The Fiscal Times
May 25, 2011

Former President Bill Clinton said Wednesday that a controversial GOP plan to dramatically overhaul Medicare clearly was a factor in the Democrats’ victory Tuesday in a House special election in a heavily Republican Western New York district. But he cautioned both parties not to use the outcome as an excuse to put off seeking ways to contain rapidly mounting government health care costs as part of a long-term debt reduction plan.

Democratic Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul scored an upset against Republican State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in a three-way race that many political experts viewed as a referendum on a Republican plan designed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.,  to convert Medicare to a subsidized voucher program. That proposal, formally approved by the full House as part of a long term budget, has generated political problems for Republicans in many districts throughout the country. Polls have shown the public is skeptical or outright opposed to gradually ending Medicare as it is currently constituted.

Speaking at a Peter G. Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit in Washington, Clinton blasted the Ryan proposal, saying it was wrong “in principle” and would saddle future seniors with inadequate health care coverage that would discourage them from seeking medical treatment, even in life-threatening situations. “Medical costs will continue to go up, and older people will use less health care and die” or spend more of their saving, he said.

“I don’t think the Democrats or Republicans ought to
conclude from the New York results that no change can be
made in Medicare.”

But Clinton, who presided over adoption of four balanced budgets during his two terms as president during the 1990s, insisted that lawmakers could still find plenty of opportunities to reduce spending on Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor as part of a comprehensive budget plan. “I don’t think the Democrats or Republicans ought to conclude from the New York results that no change can be made in Medicare” and other entitlement programs.

He added that “There is a real hunger among Americans” for us to do things,” but that the biggest cuts in health care and other domestic programs should be delayed for at least a year – as the president’s fiscal commission recommended – until the economy has improved more. “Most of this stuff should bite next year because the economy is too weak,” he said.

..."The existing Medicare system is a fiscal fantasy
that can no longer be sustained and will eventually
crash the system."

Ryan, the Republicans most prominent spokesman on the budget and economy, followed Clinton on stage and defended his Medicare plan –stressing that it wouldn’t affect people 55 and older and that it represents a sensible way to move away from a financially unsustainable fee-for-service program that is driving up the national debt. He complained about TV ads by Democrats and seniors’ advocates that he claims distorted his proposal for providing premium support for vouchers to purchase health care in the private market. Ryan compared the existing Medicare system to a “fiscal fantasy” that no can longer be sustained and will eventually “crash the system.”

“So the question is, what are the kinds of reforms we’re putting in place to get at the root cause of health inflation … [and] to inject competition into the system so we can stretch our dollar farther, and then subsidize people more who need it more and not those who need it less.”

“So what we’re saying is protect those with low-income by supplementing and covering their out of pocket costs,” he added. “And we’re also saying as people get sicker, increase their payments, stabilize their premiums. And as people get wealthier, don’t subsidize them as much.”

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.