Ryan at the AARP

By WSJ, Editorial

The headlines this weekend were all about the boos Paul Ryan elicited on Friday when he addressed the AARP, the self-styled seniors’ lobby. The herd of independent media minds missed the real story, which is that the Republican Vice Presidential nominee went into the heart of the entitlement culture, told some hard truths, and even won applause for doing so.

Mr. Ryan deserves credit merely for showing up at an organization that portrays itself as nonpartisan but whose leadership is dominated by long-time liberals who consistently pursue the Democratic Party’s entitlement agenda. On Friday, our Kimberley Strassel reported on the long email trail showing how AARP officials served as an arm of the White House in promoting ObamaCare.

AARP CEO Barry Rand used his opening remarks to defend President Obama’s health-care bill, including its accounting trick of taking $716 billion from Medicare to make a new entitlement appear to save money. He then turned the event over to President Obama, who via satellite attacked Mitt Romney and Mr. Ryan for wanting to deny medical care to seniors.

Mr. Ryan showed up anyway and didn’t soften his message that Medicare is on a path to bankruptcy if it isn’t reformed. His truths—including his initial point that seniors would benefit from the repeal of ObamaCare—didn’t go over well with the crowd’s Obama partisans, who tipped their political bent by booing and shouting “47%.”

 Largely unreported, however, was the applause Mr. Ryan received. That came in response to his criticism of ObamaCare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, the 15 “unaccountable bureaucrats” empowered under the Affordable Care Act to make cuts to Medicare that Mr. Ryan rightly said will “jeopardize access to care.” The payment board is largely shielded from Congressional review precisely so it can ration care with little democratic oversight. This is how Mr. Obama will rein in Medicare costs—whether seniors like it or not.

The Wisconsin Congressman was also cheered for his promise that his Medicare premium-support reform would “force insurance companies to compete against each other to better serve seniors, with more help for the poor and the sick—and less help for the wealthy.”

Perhaps most striking, Mr. Ryan even earned some applause when he discussed Social Security reform, including “slightly raising the retirement age over time and slowing the growth of benefits for those with higher incomes.” Raising the retirement age used to be anathema and AARP still opposes it.

In an instructive question and answer session that is available on AARP’s website, Mr. Ryan also held forth on the threat of rising national debt, the economic drawbacks of raising payroll taxes (the favorite liberal answer on Social Security), and the bipartisan roots of his proposal for Medicare premium support. All of this was in vivid contrast to Mr. Obama’s speech, which was devoid of ideas beyond those in ObamaCare.

The press corps likes to whine that politicians duck the “hard choices,” but when a politician doesn’t duck they quickly call it politically foolish and a lost cause. That’s what they’re now doing on Medicare, repeating the Obama campaign’s spin that seniors oppose reform even as the polls show Republicans doing better on the issue than usual.

Everyone knows that Medicare spending can’t continue on its current course, and one difference in this campaign is that Mr. Ryan is willing to say so while Mr. Obama and his media and AARP phalanx pretend otherwise.

A version of this article appeared September 24, 2012, on page A22 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Ryan at the AARP.

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