Does Ryan Now Agree with Gingrich?

There is a perception lingering about Newt Gingrich that he was a critic of Paul Ryan's budget plan and therefore a critic of conservative fiscal policy in the House of Representatives.  Is that conclusion true?  Or is it an oversimplification?  Like many misconceptions floating around during a heated political season, it is not true.  Let's examine the facts.

On April 5, 2011, Representative Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, introduced the Republican budget for 2012.  Included in that budget was a premium support model for Medicare.  This budget was based on a similar plan previously laid out by Ryan called The Roadmap for America's Future.  That document had been a Republican Party policy call to change the budget and put it on sound fiscal grounds compared to the Democrats' unwillingness to budget at all and tax and spend into infinity.  The Harry Reid-run Senate has not passed a budget for over three years, even though they are required to by law.

Gingrich praised the Ryan plan in an article in Human Events on April 13.  He called it the most serious attempt by an elected official to rethink our public finances and the modern welfare state in a generation.  That is quite a compliment from a former speaker of the House to a current committee chairman.  Using a golfing metaphor, Gingrich celebrated the plan, calling it a Ryan "eagle."  Is that comparison a negative critique, or is it commendation?  One week later, on April 20, Gingrich in the same space heaped more praise on the plan.  He compared Paul Ryan to Paul Revere, one of our nation's great heroes, and compared the Ryan Medicare plan with his own previous welfare reform.  Why would he disparage something he would compare to one of his greatest achievements?  Gingrich later said he would have voted for the plan if he had had the opportunity.

On May 15, 2011, Gingrich was on Meet the Press.  He had a slightly disjointed discussion with host David Gregory because Gregory kept interrupting him.  After a substantial discussion on the debt-ceiling debate, Gregory turned to entitlements and asked Gingrich a hypothetical and loaded question.  He said, "What about entitlements?  The Medicare trust fund, in stories that have come out over the weekend, is now going to be depleted by 2024, five years earlier than predicted.  Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors...some premium support and -- so that they can go out and buy private insurance?"

Notice that his question is not about whether the Ryan plan is a good plan.  Gingrich had already praised the plan.  The question was, should Republicans buck public opposition and completely change Medicare?  Gingrich's answer was a criticism not of the change, but how it should be implemented.  Not because it wasn't the right thing to do, but because politicians should get the public behind it first.  Note what Gingrich said:

I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.  I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.  I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors.  I think that that is too big a jump.  I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the--I don't want to--I'm against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.

Notice that Gingrich was now making a generalization of his own.  It was about how to change government in a positive manner.  Gingrich is recommending a more gradual change so that the American people would be persuaded to approve of such a plan.  So was Gingrich right?  Of course he was.  The plan didn't pass.  The duly elected representatives of the people in the U.S. Senate voted no.

On September 29, 2011, Gingrich introduced his own Medicare plan as part of his 21st Century Contract With America.  It includes a Medicare premium support plan which allows for immediate but voluntary participation.  It is a more user-friendly proposal and one that is more likely to pass Congress.  It doesn't change the whole system right away, but it lets seniors choose between the old and new systems.  Seniors are more likely to approve this plan, and so are their representatives.

In a surprise development on December 15, 2011, Ryan teamed up with Democrat Senator Ron Wyden to produce a bipartisan budget plan.  This new plan includes a Medicare premium support plan with an immediate voluntary option as well as the option to stay in the old system.  So Paul Ryan has now come to agree with Newt Gingrich about how Medicare reform should be implemented.  No one should be surprised.  Gingrich helped reform welfare during a Democrat presidency.  He knows how to reform the whole entitlement leviathan.