Paul Ryan's a Total Genius

Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to re-create Medicare as a voucher system has a next to zero chance of becoming law now that Senate Republicans have excluded it from their own budget proposal and GOP presidential contenders like Newt Gingrich are openly criticizing it.

Ezra Klein thinks "we've wasted the last few months arguing over a plan that isn't going to happen." Sure, Ryan's plan is doomed, but it's not a total waste: it's given Democrats a potent line of attack for next year's elections. All but four House Republicans voted for it, only to distance themselves from the Medicare provision after confronting angry voters at town halls. 

The special election in New York's 26th Congressional District -- scheduled for next Tuesday to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Chris Lee -- will be a good test case for how Democrats can run campaigns using the Ryan plan as a weapon. The Democrat in the New York race has already accused her opponent of wanting to abandon Medicare; she's recruited national politicians to push that line of attack. "What her opponent wants to do is basically end Medicare as we know it," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said at a campaign stop.

But even if the Ryan plan shows itself to have been politically toxic for Republicans, it has succeeded in focusing the national debate on budget cutting and Medicare reform. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that her caucus is open to Medicare reform in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, a concession that would have been hard to imagine had the voucher system never been proposed.

That's the genius of Republicans' political strategy. Ryan's plan set the opening terms for the negotiations, and this has become Republicans' political strategy. Speaker John Boehner's opening bid included trillions in spending cuts with no new taxes. Will the final deal contain everything either wanted? Probably not, but President Obama will likely accept a deal that he would have been uncomfortable with had Republicans' initial proposals not been so extreme. As the campaign rhetoric heats up next year and Democratic campaign ads highlight Ryan's Medicare proposal, it will be easy to assume the proposal only harmed Republicans. But if House Republicans get the Democrats to include reforming Medicare in the final deal on the debt ceiling, Ryan will have won the day.

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