How long will Ryan’s Ohio honeymoon last?

Toledo Blade - August 20, 2012
   

David Kushma

A new poll suggests that Ohio voters, at least for now, like Congressman Paul Ryan better than they like President Obama — and that Mr. Ryan’s addition to the Republican presidential ticket has helped Mitt Romney catch up to Mr. Obama in our state.

At the same time, a new analysis suggests that the spending plan that Representative Ryan is promoting as chairman of the House budget committee would cost Ohio $752 million in federal aid in 2014. That’s fully 22 percent of the discretionary money our state now gets from Washington for such things as schools, law enforcement, roads and bridges, and public health.

Between next year and 2021, the cumulative loss to Ohio from the House-approved Ryan budget — which Mr. Romney calls “marvelous” — would be nearly $6.8 billion, according to the report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

You pay your money and you take your choice. Mr. Romney’s selection of Mr. Ryan, a Tea Party favorite, as his running mate has made even clearer the alternative visions of America’s future that the two presidential campaigns offer voters — perhaps in some ways that the GOP nominee might not prefer.

Both halves of the ticket campaigned in Ohio last week: Mr. Romney in the southeast part of the state, Mr. Ryan in Oxford, home of his alma mater, Miami University. Amid the initial enthusiasm over Mr. Ryan’s selection, a poll taken by conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports concluded that 51 percent of likely Ohio voters have a favorable impression of the Wisconsin lawmaker, compared to 50 percent for the President. Older Ohioans are especially well disposed toward Mr. Ryan, according to the poll.

The Rasmussen poll also reported a dead heat between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney in Ohio, at 45 percent apiece. A poll by a Democratic-affiliated outfit last week put the President ahead by 3 points, and an academic-media poll earlier this month gave him a 6-point advantage.

But will Ohioans feel the same way about Mr. Ryan when we get to know him and his policies as well as we know the President and what he has done? The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that Mr. Ryan’s budget aims to cut the deficit without raising significant new revenue; to the contrary, he advocates trillions of dollars in tax cuts.

The center concludes that his plan would shift big costs to states for such things as the Medicaid health insurance program for poor and disabled Americans, and to local governments and school districts for a broad array of essential services. In addition to the cuts in discretionary — that is, nonentitlement — domestic spending that the Ryan budget would mean for Ohio, the center calculates that Michigan would lose $834 million in 2014, and almost $7.5 billion from 2013 to 2021.

Amy Hanauer, the founder and executive director of the progressive advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio, observes that Mr. Ryan’s plan would slash federal aid to state and local governments far below historical levels — and by much more than the automatic spending cuts that would occur if President Obama and Congress jump off the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of this year.

Mr. Ryan “seems to feel that the services the public sector offers don’t have much value and can be cut without consequence,” Ms. Hanauer told me. “The safety net, health care, schools, clean water, public transit — these are things that help Ohio function.”

Mr. Ryan’s plan for Medicare also demands Ohioans’ attention. He would turn the federal health insurance program for elderly Americans into a largely privatized system starting in 2022. If the value of the insurance vouchers his proposal would offer doesn’t keep pace with increases in health-care costs, consumers would have to make up the difference out of their own pockets — potentially thousands of dollars a year.

The Obama and Romney campaigns make the same assumptions about Medicare’s future rate of cost growth. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concludes that Obamacare — which Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan vow to repeal — would cut Medicare costs by limiting payments to providers, not by reducing benefits.

Mr. Ryan would cut program costs by shifting them to beneficiaries. His system could even cost more than Medicare, when administrative expenses of private insurers that would accept the vouchers are factored in.

Mr. Romney insists that his own budget, not Mr. Ryan’s, would guide his administration. But where Mr. Ryan is scarily explicit about much of what he wants to do, Mr. Romney remains elusive about many of the details of his tax and spending proposals. So for the moment, Mr. Ryan offers the bulk of the substance we’re likely to get out of the Republican campaign.

Substance matters. Mr. Ryan surely is a better vice presidential pick for the GOP than John McCain’s selection four years ago of Sarah Palin, whose chief distinction remains the delight she takes in her ignorance.

But Mr. Ryan’s selection appears designed more to reassure the party’s conservative base that Mr. Romney is “one of us” than to appeal to the independent and undecided voters who could decide the election. It’s especially hard to see how this ticket will strengthen Mr. Romney more in Ohio — a state he must win — than one that included Sen. Rob Portman would have done.

“The priorities of both candidates are pretty sharply drawn,” Ms. Hanauer says. “The question is whether we keep rolling back the 20th century, or whether we re-establish the kind of growth and prosperity and equity that America stands for.”

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

How long will Ryan’s Ohio honeymoon last?

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