Paul Ryan takes aim at AARP, but misses

With the House Republican budget agenda imposing new burdens and hardship on the elderly, it’s not surprising that AARP opposes the GOP vision and has said so. Given that Republicans want to end Medicare and gut Medicaid, the nation’s leading advocates for seniors should be expected to fight back.

But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), responsible for shaping his caucus’ agenda, appears to be have been rattled by all of this. He lashed out at AARP this week, blasting the organization as “a left-leaning pressure group with significant business interests in the insurance industry,” which is “intentionally misleading” the public. As Ryan sees it, AARP is in insurers’ back pocket, making it both corrupt and unreliable in the debate.

After Ryan’s political action committee pushed the attack, AARP spokesperson Jim Dau released a statement in response.

“We make decisions on policy based on what we believe will be in the best interests of Americans over age 50. A recent attack on AARP from a political action committee erroneously suggests otherwise. The truth is that the budget plan passed by the House probably would present more opportunities for AARP to strengthen its finances, since every older American would be forced into private Medicare plans, including those that AARP brands.

“But we opposed the legislation nonetheless because we believe the goal should be to strengthen Medicare, not upend it, just as we’ve expressed concern about alternative plans that could use unelected boards to cut Medicare benefits. That has been AARP’s long-stated position, and the well-being of those who need Medicare is the only ‘interest’ we have in this debate.”

That’s a pretty mild way of putting it, but the point is important here. Ryan is arguing that AARP opposes Medicare privatization because the seniors’ group is siding with the insurance industry. But that’s just bizarre on its face — if Medicare became privatized, the insurance industry would stand to make an enormous amount of money from its new customers who would be forced out of a socialized system and into the marketplace.

In other words, if AARP was looking out for insurers instead of seniors, wouldn’t the group endorse the Republican plan?

In the bigger picture, I wonder if Paul Ryan is starting to wilt in the heat. The far-right Wisconsin lawmaker is used to being treated as his party’s Golden Boy — a telegenic media darling who rarely hears a discouraging word. In recent weeks, however, Ryan has been booed by his own constituents; he’s seen polls showing overwhelming opposition to his agenda; and he’s seen his own caucus’ leaders back away from his Medicare plan.

Ryan is starting to seem a little desperate, and he’s not wearing it well.