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Ryan brings policy details, but supplies Biden with a big target

It will be a tall order for Paul Ryan to match the strong debate performance delivered by his ticket mate, Mitt Romney, last week in Denver. But that’s just what the Republican vice presidential nominee is tasked with doing on Thursday, when he meets the Democratic incumbent veep, Joe Biden, at his first (and only) debate of the 2012 election season.

With Thursday's Vice Presidential debate looming, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden are busy preparing for their big moments. VP debates aren't likely to tip the course of the election, but many of them remain memorable. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

When Romney selected Ryan to be his running mate, the choice was cheered by conservatives excited to have a champion in the cause to curb government spending and reform entitlement programs. But Ryan has also provided Democrats a big target — a result of his proposal to fundamentally transform the Medicare program. 

Elected to the House in 1998 at age 28, Ryan is doing something unprecedented for a running mate — bringing a detailed policy agenda with him and finding that the presidential candidate who picked him has accepted it and is also running on it. 

GOP Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan expects in this week's VP debate for Joe Biden to come at him full force. The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson discusses what he expects from the VP debate and what it could do for the election.

It’s likely that the Ryan budget plan and especially its Medicare transformation will be a primary focus of Biden’s attacks on Ryan in the debate. But it’s unlikely that Biden will go as far as a left-of-center group, The Agenda Project, did last year in making the argument against Ryan’s plan. The group’s TV ad featured a Ryan lookalike actor, with “America the Beautiful” playing in the background, pushing an elderly woman off a cliff to her death, as the ad said, “Is America beautiful without Medicare? Ask Paul Ryan and his friends in Congress.” 

Biden will surely be more subtle than that ad, but his argument will be aimed squarely at the crucial demographic in Florida and other states: voters on Medicare or those about to be eligible for the health insurance entitlement. 

When Ryan’s party regained control of the House in the 2010 elections, GOP candidates performed best among voters age 65 and older, nearly 60 percent of whom voted Republican, according to exit polls. 

Politico's Jonathan Martin talks about the upcoming vice presidential debate and what the match-up between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan could look like.


Reforming health care
Here are the highlights from Ryan’s Medicare proposal:

  • His reform would gradually increase the Medicare eligibility age to 67.
  • The phased-in increase in eligibility would start in 2023.
  • His proposal would do away with Medicare’s open-ended payments for those born in 1958 and later.
  • Ryan’s plan would not apply to those now receiving Medicare benefits – but he does favor repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would mean that today’s seniors would lose the additional prescription drug benefits that the ACA gave them.

But even though Ryan wants to repeal the ACA, his budget blueprint incorporates various cuts to Medicare that were enacted in the overhaul, saving more than $500 billion over ten years. They’re the same kind of cuts that the Republican ticket has criticized Obama for enacting.

It is no accident that Ryan, the policy wonk who says “I'm kind of a PowerPoint guy,” finds himself in this starring role. He almost seemed destined for it back in 2010, when he played the role of chief antagonist to President Barack Obama at the Blair House health care summit. He was tough on entitlement spending and confronted the president with a six-minute lecture on what was wrong with his health care overhaul.

“This bill does not control costs,” Ryan told the president. “This bill does not reduce deficits. Instead, this bill adds a new health care entitlement at a time when we have no idea how to pay for the entitlements we already have.” 

At that summit, Ryan also made what has become a core argument in Romney’s speeches and one that the GOP presidential nominee deployed in his first debate with Obama last week: The Affordable Care Act “treats Medicare like a piggy bank. It raids a half a trillion dollars out of Medicare, not to shore up Medicare solvency, but to spend on this new government program.” 

Conservative favorite
That six-minute lecture helped make Ryan a hero to GOP base – at a time when the Republican Party was still feeling the sting of Obama’s 2008 victory. 

“There were only two choices on the list of VP candidates who would have excited the base, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio,” said Republican campaign consultant Jason Roe, who is currently working on GOP House races in Illinois, Arizona and California. “What Ryan has done is he’s brought seriousness about what’s going on in Congress and the issues related to the debt and reforming entitlements.” 

Ryan “brings kind of a sober sensibility to the debate. Some of the things that he has talked about over the last few years are tough medicine. Even if people don’t agree with him, they at least recognize that he’s being honest about the problems and honest about what the solutions are going to look like,” Roe said. 

Before Romney’s strong debate performance last week against Obama, “there were elements of the base that were not yet excited about Romney,” Roe said, and in the period between the GOP convention and that debate victory, Ryan supplied “proxy enthusiasm for the ticket.”

But Democratic strategists say that Ryan’s budget plan provides fodder for them, not only in the presidential race but in congressional races as well. 

A few days after Romney chose Ryan, Alixandria Lapp, the executive director of the Democratic House Majority PAC, said, “From House Majority PAC’s inception (in April 2011), it was clear that the Ryan budget could be the key to Democrats taking back the House majority.” 

House Majority PAC spokesman Andy Stone said Tuesday, “It’s not a state secret that we were going to use Ryan budget attacks against Republican candidates this cycle. They’re incredibly potent –  all the polling has demonstrated that. The fact that Paul Ryan is on the top of the ticket now means that they are that much more effective. And we can see the effect of these hits in lots of districts around the country.”

He cited House Majority PAC TV ads which are being run against first-term Republicans Rep. Daniel Webster in Florida and Rep. Jeff Denham in California, as well as against seven-term Rep. Charlie Bass in New Hampshire.

Sovereign debt crisis warnings
Republicans have been offering proposals for more than 20 years to redesign Medicare, but it’s the reality of sovereign debt crises in European nations that has given a new urgency to the case for entitlement reform. Ryan sounded that theme Monday night at a Pontiac, Mich., fundraiser: “The worst thing that could happen is President Obama gets re-elected and we go down on a path towards a debt crisis.”

But he has been sounding that alarm for well over two years: “You have Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain with huge debt crises. We should not fool ourselves to think that that could not come here,” Ryan said early in 2010 in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

Differences with Romney 
On Thursday night, Biden might seek to highlight Ryan’s differences with Romney on at least on at least two significant issues, abortion and the 2009 GM/Chrysler bailout.

Romney would allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. But Ryan’s position is that abortions, even in the case of rape and incest, should be banned.

Ryan also voted for the 2009 GM/Chrysler bailout, which Romney opposed, and as recently as Monday lamented the loss of auto industry jobs. “In the district I represent, we lost two Delphi (parts) plants, we lost a Chrysler engine plant, we lost the GM plant in Janesville where I live. So trust me when I say, we know a very healthy auto economy is healthy for America,” he said.