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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Most Republicans Know Little About Ryan Medicare Plan

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial Medicare proposal received a good deal of focus in the GOP debate in New Hampshire on Monday night.  CNN moderator John King first zeroed in on the Ryan plan when talking to Newt Gingrich, whose comments about the plan on Meet the Press a few weeks ago had caused major repercussions in the news media and among news pundits and commentators across the spectrum.

KING:  Mr. Speaker, I want to bring you into this conversation, because I'm looking down -- I want to get the words just right -- your initial reaction to the Ryan plan? It's radical right-wing social engineering. Then you backtracked. Why?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, it was a very narrow question, which said, should Republicans impose an unpopular bill on the American people? Now, I supported the Ryan budget as a general proposal. I actually wrote a newsletter supporting the Ryan budget. And those words were taken totally out of context.

I'm happy to repeat them. If you're dealing with something as big as Medicare and you can't have a conversation with the country where the country thinks what you're doing is the right thing, you better slow down.

Remember, we all got mad at Obama because he ran over us when we said don't do it. Well, the Republicans ought to follow the same ground rule. If you can't convince the American people it's a good idea, maybe it's not a good idea. So let me start there.

Second, there are certain things I would do different than Paul Ryan on Medicare. I agree strongly with him on Medicaid, and I think it could be done. 

Then former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum brought up the Ryan plan:

SANTORUM: I believed that people could work and they could succeed. And we brought people together. I got 70 votes to end a federal entitlement -- to end a federal entitlement which was what Paul Ryan's proposed for Medicaid, he's proposed for food stamps, he's proposed for other welfare programs.


SANTORUM: No. We have a $1.4 trillion deficit, and it isn't getting any better anytime soon. We have to deal with this problem now. And what Paul Ryan has suggested, which I wholeheartedly support, is to use a program that is identical to what seniors already have. It's called Medicare Part D.


SANTORUM:  What Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum want to do, which is not radical, which is take a program, Medicare prescription drugs, that is 41 percent under budget, because seniors are involved in controlling costs, and apply it all to Medicare. It is the right approach for Medicare.

The Ryan plan also came up as part of Georgia businessman Herman Cain's discourse at the debate.

CAIN: We don't need to slow down. I hate to tell you -- I hate to be the one to give you the bad news, Doctor. You're not going to get most of the money you put into Medicare if we don't restructure it.

The reason we're in the situation we are today with Medicare and Social Security is because the problem hasn't been solved. We can no longer rearrange it. We've got to restructure those programs. And the Paul Ryan approach I totally support.  And he has been very courageous in taking the lead on this.

All of this certainly suggests that the Ryan plan is a significant part of the way in which the news media and political candidates are thinking about the key issues involved in this presidential race.

There's just one problem.

Most Republicans nationwide don’t appear to have much of a clue as to what this discussion is about.

A recent June 8-11 USA Today/Gallup poll asked 851 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents the following question: "Based on what you have heard or read about it, do you favor or oppose the proposal by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan to change the Medicare system for people who are currently younger than 55, or don’t you know enough to say?"

The answers?  Twenty-four percent of Republicans said that they favored the plan.  Eight percent said that they opposed the plan.  That leaves a grand total of 68% of Republicans who said they didn't know enough about the Ryan plan to have an opinion. 

Other recent polls show the same thing.

A CBS News poll conducted June 3-7 showed that the “changes to the Medicare system recently proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan and passed by House Republicans” were "confusing" to 71% of Republicans. Only 17% of Republicans interviewed said they had a good understanding of the Ryan proposals.

A Pew Research poll conducted May 25-30 didn't mention the name Paul Ryan, but instead asked Republicans how much they had heard about  “a proposal to change Medicare into a program that would give future participants a credit toward purchasing private health insurance coverage.”  Exactly 16% of Republicans said they had heard "a lot" about the proposal.  Another 57% said that they had heard “a little” (which is a face saving response), while 26% admitted they had heard nothing at all.

What does this tell us?  It tells us that average rank-and-file Republicans out there across the country are paying less attention to some of the issues that are consuming the party's leadership than might be thought. 

Much of the focus of today's political campaigning consists of back and forth between candidates, their campaign teams, paid consultants, reporters and commentators and pundits desperate for a story line.  All of this ping ponging -- and often the manufacturing of the controversies of the day -- is carried on blissfully above the heads of the average citizens out there across the land.

Of course, this insight is not new.  That's why savvy political consultants tell their clients that their image will be in large part formed by only a few incidents or statements (out of the thousands made) that are picked up and amplified by the media. 

One example of this, of course, is the brief statement about the Ryan plan made by Gingrich on Meet the Press. That issue was picked up and became a huge talking point for the squadron of talking heads and pundits and Internet scribes looking for "content" to fulfill their obligation to discourse meaningfully on the election. The fact that most Republicans don't know much at all about the Ryan plan wasn't a part of that discourse.

In a different way, Tim Pawlenty faced this same type of situation Monday in the New Hampshire debate.  He was given the opportunity to turn to front-runner Mitt Romney and create drama by directly criticizing Romney's Massachusetts healthcare plan as being nothing different than Obama's healthcare plan.  Pawlenty chose not to do so.  He was civil instead, and backed away from direct criticism. Which was fine, and the kind of thing that you or I would probably do in a similar situation.  But, Pawlenty was, no doubt, chided by his consultants the next day for having missed the opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity to define himself with an "incident".  Had Pawlenty been uncivil and drilled in on Romney, making Romney squirm and the audience uncomfortable, he would have been the beneficiary of a positive storyline the next day (replete with video clips had Pawlenty managed to say something harsh enough while looking at Romney) and hence stood out from the crowd, which is what Pawlenty, with his low 54% name identification, needs. 


Anonymous said...
June 27, 2011 at 7:43 AM  

Those republicans that say they do not know enough about the Ryan Plan shows voter apathy. It is very easy to understand and all they have to do is look it up on the internet. If American voters do not start looking into major legislation they will continue to have bills rammed down their throats like Obama Care.

I am convinced that voter apathy among both liberals and conservatives is one of the biggest problems this nation faces. Most voters think they can get explanations of legislation by listening to the news or politico ads.

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