Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate marks a further shift to the right in the 2012 election campaign. Ryan is best known for his role in drafting House Republican budgets that would privatize Medicare and devastate federal spending on all other social programs.
Regardless of the outcome of the vote on November 6, the Ryan pick signals that the US ruling elite has decided on a frontal assault on key social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The Washington Post editorial page put the issue bluntly, criticizing "major flaws and omissions" in Ryan's budget plans, then adding: "Yet his selection puts useful pressure on both Mr. Romney and President Obama to be more specific about their own approaches to entitlement spending, tax reform and other budgetary issues about which they would prefer to speak, if at all, in vague generalities."
If the Romney-Ryan ticket wins, the Republicans will claim they have a popular mandate to privatize and destroy programs like Medicare and Medicaid on which tens of millions of poor and elderly people depend. If Obama is reelected, the Democratic administration will propose cuts nearly as devastating, while claiming to have "saved" these programs from the Republicans.
As always, the Republican right sets a benchmark of reaction to which the Democrats adapt in order to shift social policy as a whole ever further to the right and carry out ever more brutal attacks on the working class.
The barrage of demagogy and lies from both right-wing pro-corporate parties began as soon as Romney announced his choice of Ryan at a rally in Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday, held with the battleship USS Wisconsin as a backdrop.
Romney called attention to the cuts in Medicare funding incorporated in the Obama health care legislation passed in 2010. "Unlike the current president, who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion, we will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security," he declared. Republican congressional candidates made similar arguments in their successful 2010 campaigns.
The Obama reelection campaign responded with commercials calling attention to Ryan's role as the chief sponsor of the House Republican budgets in 2011 and 2012 that called for conversion of Medicare into a voucher-based program with strict limits on the amount of federal spending, effectively shifting the risk of higher medical bills from the government to the elderly.
Despite the attacks by both sides on the Medicare issue, there is a substantial area of overlap in the plans of both big business parties for dramatic cuts. The latest version of the Ryan plan, drafted as a bipartisan measure with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, would extend the mechanism in the Obama health care overhaul to Medicare: insurance exchanges run by the 50 states, with individuals purchasing private insurance using government-subsidized vouchers.
The Obama health care program establishes such exchanges for working people without health insurance who earn more than the federal poverty level. The Ryan plan would set up a similar structure for senior citizens. In both cases, the purpose is the same: using the vouchers (called "premium support") to limit the federal contribution and shift the cost of health care from the government (or in the case of Obama, corporations) to the individual.
Ryan represents a definite social type -- someone who decided in college, if not earlier, to make a political career as an advocate of ultra-right policies and the interests of corporate America. He was an enthusiast for Ayn Rand, the glorifier of capitalist brutality and selfishness, and went to Washington as a congressional aide and later a speechwriter for 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, before winning an open congressional seat in southeastern Wisconsin in 1998.
He is, like most congressmen and senators, a multi-millionaire, with a personal fortune of as much as $7 million based on his own family's earth-moving company in Janesville, Wisconsin and his wife's inheritance of Oklahoma oil wealth.
Despite his posture as a "free market" radical, Ryan backed government intervention to save the banks and the auto companies in 2008 and 2009, voting for both TARP (the Wall Street bailout) and the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. He declared at the time that such efforts were necessary "to save the free enterprise system."
Ryan is invariably referred to in the corporate-controlled media as "an intellectual leader of the Republican Party," a description echoed Sunday by President Obama. This dubious accolade means that he can propose to slash benefits for the poor and elderly in order to finance tax cuts for millionaires, and at the same time claim that this will benefit society as a whole...all while keeping a straight face.
The congressional budgets that bear Ryan's name have five major features: