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Wyden-Ryan: Dead or Alive?

10:27 PM, Mar 20, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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The bipartisan Medicare reform plan proposed by Republican House member Paul Ryan and Oregon senator Ron Wyden is dead. At least, that's the perception Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid may be trying to create.

Wyden

When asked multiple times by reporters about the Wyden-Ryan proposal and how it related to the budget Ryan released today, Reid simply pointed out that Wyden, a liberal Democrat, was against the GOP budget. 

“I talked to Senator Wyden this morning about the Ryan budget proposal, which he says he does not favor,” Reid said at a press conference in the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, prompting this headline from the Hill: “Reid: Sen. Wyden against Medicare reforms in Ryan budget.”

But there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to back up Reid's words. The Hill reports that while Wyden told reporters about aspects of the GOP budget he disagreed with, the Oregon Democrat “fell short of saying he didn’t support” the Ryan’s Medicare reforms. (Reid, for his part, wouldn't elaborate on his comments.)

And in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, published on Monday, Wyden defended his work with Ryan on Medicare reform. “[T]hose of us who care about the Medicare Guarantee shouldn't discourage Republicans from working in a bipartisan way to preserve the program in the future,” Wyden wrote. “Even though it might blunt some political attacks, we should be encouraging Republicans to take dangerous reforms off the table and pledge their support for Medicare.” He noted that he did not help write the Ryan budget and that he would almost certainly vote against it in the Senate.

“I do know, however, that because we worked together, Paul Ryan now knows more about the Medicare Guarantee and protecting seniors from unscrupulous insurance practices than he did before. If that is reflected in his budget this year, as someone who has been fighting for seniors since he was 27 years old, I think that's a step in the right direction,” Wyden wrote. 

In late 2011, Wyden began working with Ryan on a plan that tracks closely with Ryan’s premium support proposal by “allowing private plans to compete with traditional Medicare.” Ryan’s newest budget incorporates many of the Wyden-Ryan plan ideas, including retaining the option for seniors to continue using Medicare’s traditional “fee-for-service” plan. Ryan himself admits his budget’s proposal doesn’t follow Wyden-Ryan exactly. 

“This is not the Wyden-Ryan plan; this is the House Republican budget,” Ryan insisted Tuesday morning at the American Enterprise Institute. “But we include several elements [of that plan]." 

Nevertheless, Ryan's team suggests there are bipartisan proposals in this budget. “We're advancing a budget that builds upon a long history of bipartisan solutions to save and strengthen Medicare,” says Conor Sweeney, a Ryan spokesman. “Ensuring guaranteed affordability through a strengthened Medicare program is something both parties can agree on, and something both parties should work together to advance.”

Many Senate Democrats don’t seem too interested in Wyden-Ryan, however. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Joe Manchin, Mark Warner, Patty Murray, Tom Harkin, and Mark Begich all told THE WEEKLY STANDARD Tuesday that they hadn’t read the plan. Senate budget chairman Kent Conrad says he’s talked to Wyden about the plan but that he can’t judge the plan until it’s actually a legislative proposal. Conrad said he was looking at the House GOP budget but didn’t have any praise for the plan’s Medicare reforms.

“It is so sparse in detail, I don’t know how you can come to a conclusion on what it means,” Conrad said.

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