In a post of a few days ago (HERE), I entertained speculation that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican, has emerged as a convenient antagonist against whom President Obama can aim political barbs.
Any doubts about that were dispelled today when Obama devoted parts of his BIG SPEECH on deficit reduction to ridicule of Ryan’s vaunted budget plan.
He warmed to the Ryan-bashing with this:
One vision has been championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates. It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years, and one that addresses the challenge of Medicare and Medicaid in the years after that.
Those are both worthy goals for us to achieve. But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history.
A 70% cut to clean energy. A 25% cut in education. A 30% cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That’s what they’re proposing. These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren’t the kind of cuts that Republicans and Democrats on the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic.
It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.
It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck – you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.
At one point, Obama virtually sneered at notions that Ryan and his cohorts are “courageous” for having advanced a “serious” fiscal blueprint. Said the president:
The fact is, their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know.
And later, Obama returned to Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare:
I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society. I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves. We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.
No doubt about it. Paul Ryan is Barack Obama’s punching bag.
UPDATE: In another development that adds to the Obama-Ryan drama, House Speaker John Boehner was forced today to ratchet-up his endorsement of Ryan’s budget plan.
Earlier this morning, Boehner gave a relatively LUKEWARM NOD to the Ryan plan.
A few hours later, in the wake of apparent pressure from right-wingers, Boehner FAIRLY GUSHED over the plan.
In poker parlance, Boehner is all in — which means his political fanny is on the line in the coming rhetorical wars over Ryan’s plan, especially as it relates to Medicare.
UPDATE II: For a quick comparison of the Obama and Ryan plans, check HERE.