Romney doubles down on Medicare privatization

Mitt Romney clearly didn’t want to endorse Paul Ryan’s radical budget plan, which includes a measure to end Medicare. But now that he’s losing, Romney apparently feels as if he doesn’t have any choice.

After months of avoiding taking a firm stand on Ryan’s privatization scheme — Medicare’s guaranteed benefit would be scrapped, replaced with vouchers — Romney is suddenly on board with the far-right agenda without leaving himself much in the way of wiggle room. This began in earnest yesterday, when the Romney campaign boasted, “Mitt Romney supports what Paul Ryan did. He endorsed what Paul Ryan did.”

The Romney camp then further embraced the Ryan plan overnight, unveiling a new video attacking Newt Gingrich for having criticized Medicare privatization. Today, Romney was even more explicit at an event in Iowa, responding to a voter’s question.

“I spent a good deal of time with Congressman Ryan. When his plan came out, I applauded it, as an important step,” he said. “We’re going to have to make changes like the ones Paul Ryan proposed.”

Romney added that by using “vouchers,” he intends to help “protect” Medicare.

Right about now, I suspect there are a lot of folks at the DNC and at Obama for America HQ who are smiling.

Remember, Romney didn’t want to go to this point. He’s been entirely aware of how radioactive Ryan’s Medicare scheme was — polls showed the American mainstream hates it — and the fact that it cost Republicans at least one congressional special election this year, and will be a major issue in 2012. When Romney was confident that he’d be the nominee, he was comfortable avoiding this issue.

But now he’s stuck. Romney apparently intends to use his support for the Ryan plan to get ahead in the GOP nominating race, despite the general-election risks, working under the assumption that there won’t be a general-election for him unless he goes to the hard-right now.

I made the case yesterday that this is a major campaign development. Jonathan Cohn goes a little further today, explaining why this “may prove to be a critical moment.”

All of this frames a pretty stark choice for the next election…. [A] vote for President Obama will be a vote to implement Obamacare and keep Medicare, while a vote for the Republican nominee, assuming it’s Gingrich or Romney, will be a vote to eliminate the former and at least begin dismantling the latter (along with Medicaid, most likely).

Or to put it a bit more simply, the choice in the next election will be for universal health care for people of all ages or universal health care for nobody.