Will Ryan's silence prove golden?

Matt Pommer Wisconsin Newspaper Association

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, has shifted gears on Medicare while largely staying out of Republican demands to dismantle the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”

Those actions would seem to place Ryan in a position to be a major contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. At a minimum, his stance eclipses Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to gain attention on the national stage.

Ryan gained national attention as the GOP vice-presidential candidate in 2012, and polling by Marquette University Law School now shows that Republican voters in Wisconsin give him a substantial edge over Walker for national office.

What is remarkable is that Ryan’s stature has grown by staying out of the verbal war over Obam- acare. Silence from a politician is something that always should be noted. Veteran party leaders, like U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., flatly say the Affordable Health Care Act won’t be repealed.

The Affordable Health Care Act is expected to provide health-insurance opportunities to 15 percent of Americans who have not reached the age to qualify for Medicare. The latter program is important to senior citizens, their families and those who are thinking about their health care after retirement. (Medicare is also available for younger people with disabilities as well as people with end-stage renal disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease.)

Several years ago Ryan was promoting a shift in Medicare. Under his plan senior citizens would get vouchers to select their own Medicare program from private insurance companies. Ryan would have grandfathered those 55 and older into the existing program.

In retrospect, Ryan’s old Medicare approach sounds similar to Obamacare. Under Obamacare, uninsured citizens get government help to select from a smorgasbord of options from the private sector. It would have been difficult to maintain the voucher ideas given the right-wing criticism of the Obama approach.

It should be noted that by better than a 2-to-1 margin senior citizens like how Medicare currently operates. And, traditionally, senior citizens have tended to vote Republican.

President Obama has proposed changes in programs for senior citizens, including how Social Security cost-of-living increases are calculated and a reduction of subsidies for certain Medicare programs used by many affluent seniors. Ryan seems to be supportive of those types of changes.

Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a proponent of overhauling the Internal Revenue Service tax code. News accounts paint Ryan as the policy guru of the Republican majority caucus in the House.

The federal budget fight has included a Republican stance against any additional tax revenue for the federal government. That’s fine political rhetoric, but it would make it very difficult to change income-tax rules. Changing the rules will produce some losers as well as winners.

Nonetheless, any tax-overhaul effort would make Ryan a highly publicized Republican leader. And moderate Republicans are looking for a presidential candidate who can offer the promise of leadership.

The closing of the federal government over the Affordable Health Care Act has subjected Tea Party Republicans to significant public criticism. With fewer than 5 percent of citizens believing that Congress is doing its job, the institution is bearing much of the blame for the government shutdown and its ramifications. Ryan’s decision to keep his mouth shut may allow him to help fashion changes.

Some would suggest Republicans will have to turn to incumbent governors for their national ticket because of those polls. Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker may be hoping that will improve his prospects on the national scene.

But there’s room for only one Wisconsin political figure at the national level at a time. Walker’s future in Washington more likely would be running for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

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