Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan calling for a broad restructuring of Medicare has made the race for his Wisconsin seat a closely watched indicator of the larger political landscape, Roll Call reported.
Ryan's plan would reform the entitlement program by converting much of it into private grants, prompting a wave of withering attacks by Democrats warning that Ryan's proposal would harm seniors who rely on Medicare. When Republican candidate Jane Corwin lost a special election in a heavily conservative New York district shortly after Ryan released the proposal, Democrats trumpeted the election as voters rejecting Ryan's budget plan. That same strategy could play out as Kenosha County supervisor and Democrat Rob Zerban mounts a campaign to replace Ryan.
I think it's more of trying to nationalize a race around the budget, Ryan said in an interview. It's part of a national narrative they're trying to create about shooting the messenger. It's a way of highlighting their campaign to scare seniors this fall.
Medicare, like Social Security, enjoys an immense popularity that makes proposing cuts politically risky, and protecting such social safety nets has become a central tenet of the Democrats. But the landscape could be shifting in a time when reducing government spending is driving the debate in Washington. President Obama recently proposed a grand budget bargain that would exchange cutbacks in the two entitlement programs for reforming the tax code, and the American Association of Retired Persons pivoted on a fiercely held position by signaling its openness to some Social Security cuts.
Ryan's plan, and Zerban's staunch opposition to it, crystallizes these forces. Democrats observing the race are hoping that voters are prepared to repudiate the Republican agenda, something that would be a stark reversal of the 2010 election in which Republicans made significant gains.
Ryan is an issue in Congressional races around the country. He has been nationalized, via his proposal, a Democratic aide told Roll Call. This is the right time to be engaged, while people are engaged in Washington and we have a candidate holding Ryan accountable back home with his voters.