The latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek attempts to throw cold water on the notion that Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has tried to reach across the political aisle to win support for his ideas.
But it’s hard not to take the following example as a good illustration of Ryan’s efforts to secure bipartisan agreement on a major public policy issue.
Ryan found a partner in Alice Rivlin. A former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton White House and a Washington Wise Woman, Rivlin was serving with Ryan on the Simpson-Bowles commission. After an extended back and forth, the two came up with a Medicare proposal both could live with: Instead of getting rid of the fee-for-service model—Medicare as we know it, in which the government pays providers directly—and opening everything to the free market, the government health-care program would compete directly with private plans regulated by government exchanges. And rather than pegging the growth rate of Medicare spending to the Consumer Price Index, as Ryan had proposed, the Wisconsin lawmaker appeased Rivlin with a more generous cost cap.
Yet when Ryan released his first budget as chairman of the House Budget Committee that April—with the full backing of his party—he abandoned his compromise with Rivlin and ditched the agreed-upon option for seniors to stick with traditional fee-for-service Medicare.
Democrats attacked Ryan for attempting to dismantle the program, running ads that featured a man in a suit pushing an old woman off a cliff. Ryan defended himself by noting that the Medicare proposal was actually a bipartisan effort. Rivlin is “a proud Democrat at the Brookings Institution,” Ryan said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe at the time. “These entitlement reforms are based off of those models that she and I worked on together.”
Rivlin wasn’t happy. When Ryan released the budget, she told him she couldn’t support it and came out against it publicly: “When I called him out on it, he softened the tone of his references to me,” she says. Rivlin isn’t upset with Ryan. “He genuinely wanted a bipartisan bill,” she says of his initial efforts. “I don’t think he was doing anything bad,” she adds. “He was pleased to have a Democratic partner.”
As Rivlin no doubt recognizes, the unwillingness to stray from core policy principles does not equal disinterest in bipartisanship.