Medicare vouchers in 2013?

Several months ago, the House Republican budget plan, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) generated a national firestorm for good reason. Among its many controversial provisions was a radical plan to force seniors out of Medicare and into a private voucher system. When nearly every Republican in the House and Senate endorsed the proposal, it instantly became the basis for much of the Democratic strategy in 2012.

At least at the congressional level, that is. Among GOP presidential candidates, Ryan’s radical approach to Medicare had a certain radioactive quality that gave would-be presidents pause — they couldn’t denounce the plan without infuriating conservatives, but they couldn’t endorse it without creating a major general-election vulnerability for themselves.

Mitt Romney, known for being on every side of every issue, spent quite a bit of time dodging questions about the Ryan plan in the Spring, except in one key instance. In February, asked about the far-right agenda, Romney praised Ryan and said, “Anyone who has read my book knows that we are on the same page.”

This week, Brian Beutler notes, Romney went even further.

Mitt Romney caught a lot of heat Tuesday for his comments about foreclosures. But in the same interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal, he outlined a plan for the country’s future that would please Paul Ryan, and conservatives hell bent on rolling back the social safety net.

His proposal for Medicare, which he and other Republicans have nodded at in the past, would mimic the GOP budget plan. It would provide future seniors vouchers to buy private insurance, while at the same time preserving traditional Medicare as an option. This type of approach has been adopted by one independent fiscal commission this year (the Domenici-Rivlin proposal), but it dates back to the 1990s when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich embraced it as a way to put traditional Medicare on the path to extinction — or as he put it to “wither on the vine and die.”

“You have a program like Paul Ryan has proposed which says we’re going to give people vouchers to let them chose among private plans,” Romney said. “I think that has a good deal of merit. I would not at the same time want to remove the option from people to have standard Medicare. But I would probably move toward a more managed care approach even in Medicare itself.”

With subtle nuances, this clearly puts Romney in line with Paul Ryan’s radical approach — and given how wildly unpopular the Ryan plan is, Romney’s comments are music to the ears of Democrats.

Remember, in context, Romney talked up Medicare vouchers in the context of cost savings, but this is misleading — the vouchers wouldn’t actually lower health care costs, they would simply push the burden from the Medicare program onto seniors and their families.

Between this and Romney’s support for Social Security privatization, the Obama campaign’s strategy for winning Florida just became a little clearer.