Tension is not unusual in this city.
Around his district in Wisconsin, Paul Ryan’s constituents have grown accustomed to his high-energy, friendly meet-and-greets.
If there is one thing Ryan is good at, it’s putting a happy face on the right’s most drastic, Social Darwinist plans to leave the poor and elderly to fend for themselves.
While grandmas in tennis shoes carry protest signs outside his town hall meetings, Ryan dashes through a power point that uses a flurry of graphs that show government spending on Medicare is crushing the economy, and project that massive tax cuts for corporations will revive the economy.
It’s a simple message: lower taxes for the rich and less of safety net for the poor, the elderly, and the unemployed will put us on a “path to prosperity.”
We tried Ryan’s prescription for tax cuts for the rich during the Bush years, to disastrous effect.
The next stage of his plan is even worse. Turning Medicare into a voucher program and Medicaid into a block grant to the states will mean the people who depend on these programs will have to make up the difference if their benefits fail to cover their health care expenses.
I asked Ryan about the study by David Rosnick and Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research that shows his plan would waste $30 trillion over 75 years by diverting money from the single-payer Medicare program to a plethora of top-heavy private bureaucracies.
“This increase in costs—from waste associated with using a less efficient health care delivery system—has not received the attention that it deserves in the public debate,” Rosnick and Dean write.
“Dean and I just disagree,” says Ryan. “I don’t think it’s more efficient to have a single-payer system.” Competition is the key to holding down health care costs, he told me.
Never mind that the United States spends more on its privatized system of health care than any other nation in the world, and yet gets worse health outcomes—we rank 42nd for life expectancy.
"He wants to put us at the mercy of the private health insurance corporations with their outrageous CEO compensation," said Florence Hammelew, a retired Catholic Social Services worker, one of a group of older women who protested outside Ryan’s town hall meeting in Kenosha.
“We can’t guarantee outcomes,” Ryan explains. “We can only guarantee opportunity.”
That’s cold comfort for the poor, the elderly, and the sick.
Ryan’s elevation to vice presidential candidate puts his live-and-let-die anti-government philosophy right at the center of the national debate.
Ryan put it this way at an Americans for Prosperity event in Milwaukee in March: “Progressivism was founded here in Wisconsin. The battle between conservatives and progressives is coming to a crescendo this year.”
At the time he was referring to the effort to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Now, his words just as aptly describe the national election this fall.
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter