Paul Ryan’s job on Thursday night when he squares off against Vice President Joe Biden is to convince voters that he is not a loon. Biden’s challenge is to sell himself as a responsible manager of our country’s affairs. Ryan has the simpleran easier task.
Beyond countering the Obama-Biden caricature of him as a heartless wonk, Ryan needs to push the themes that worked so well for Romney during the first presidential debate. They include having good ideas for fixing our fiscal predicament, fostering job creation and protecting the middle class, as well as being able to work across the aisle to get things done. New Pew polling shows that Romney holds a substantial lead in how voters think he will handle the nation’s debt crisis; Ryan, whose blood is clotted with federal budget minutia, can build on that.
Romney also got a boost in how people think he will manage taxes and the role of government in our economy – in other words, messages Republicans have tried to deliver for months. Voters now give Obama only a narrow lead in social programs that are typically Democrat strongholds, like Medicare and healthcare. It must be galling to the president that having spent most of his political capital (and the Democrat majority in the House) on Obamacare, voters only give the president a 3-point edge in how he will manage healthcare.
Just as Mitt Romney was easily able to counter the negative stereotype that the Obama campaign had created for him – by being himself – so too can Paul Ryan persuade voters that his solutions for our nation’s fiscal crisis are not injurious or idiotic. While job creation tops Americans’ priorities, reining in our nation’s debt remains a chief challenge – and one that the Obama administration has failed to address in any believable manner.
1. The Debt: They are right to be concerned; every man, woman and child in the U.S. owes $53,000 in federal debt – higher than any country in Europe including Greece. Ryan can make a simple case: four years of trillion-dollar deficits have left us with a monster $16 trillion IOU. Given four more years, the numbers will only get worse.
2. Obama’s Budget Failure: Ryan should remind voters that President Obama’s attempt at a FY2013 budget was voted down 97-0 in the Senate. The fact that his proposal elicited not one single vote from Democrats is extraordinary. Biden will doubtless counter that Ryan, who chastises Obama for ignoring the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission, voted against the proposals. Ryan will explain that the plan included many good ideas, but left Medicare and Medicaid untouched. Since Medicare is the number one budget-buster, Ryan came up with his own proposal, which was described by Erskine Bowles as “a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget and it cut the budget deficit just like we did by four trillion dollars.”
3. Mediscare: For sure, the conversation will move to Medicare, a topic which the Obama campaign hoped would bury the Romney/Ryan team. Obama and Biden have campaigned on sound bites aimed at scaring older voters by knowingly misrepresenting Ryan’s proposals to overhaul Medicare. Biden, in his speech to the Democrat convention, said the Romney/Ryan plan “would immediately cut benefits for more than 30 million seniors already on Medicare.” He also said “the plan they're proposing would cause Medicare to go bankrupt by 2016.” This dishonesty will be tough to duplicate with Ryan in the room.
4. Medicare Sustainability: Romney and Ryan have actually suggested changes that might save Medicare. They know that the trajectory for Medicare spending – from $550 billion today to more than one trillion in only seven years – is unsustainable. Already Medicare and Medicaid claim 22% of the federal budget – more than defense. Ryan, however, cannot afford to get lost in the weeds. Medicare is complicated and the audience will lose interest if Ryan dives into the stats.
Instead, he needs to reaffirm that current recipients will not be impacted by his reforms. And, Ryan has to repeat that Obamacare demands $716 billion in cuts to Medicare, of which $415 will come from reduced payments to “care providers” including doctors and hospitals. Most people like their doctors, and many have probably spoken to their doctors about the prospect of reduced reimbursement rates.
5. Obamacare: Many doctors oppose the Obamacare plan, and many have said they will stop taking Medicare patients. This ends Medicare as many people currently experience it. While Ryan’s proposals to fix the health behemoth also included cuts to Medicare, the money was to go to shoring up Medicare’s trust fund – not to finance Obamacare.
Obamacare is fertile ground for Ryan. He can describe how the president’s health plan is helping stifle job creation, as businesses struggle against the law’s new regulations and higher taxes. He can cite the most recent NFIB survey of small business optimism, that has edged lower once again in the past month, and the decline in new-business start-ups. As much as the Obama administration has paid lip service to their enthusiasm for the private sector and for small firms in particular, their policies have buried the animal spirits of our entrepreneurs.
After Obama’s shocking collapse in the first debate, the VP face-off has taken on unusual importance. If nothing else, the audience is likely to be huge. Biden’s speech was the most-watched of either convention, drawing nearly 44 million viewers. Some speculated that many tuned in hoping to see a classic Biden gaffe; they were disappointed. Republicans would love to see Biden meet that expectation, at the least, on Thursday.