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Why Tea Party Seniors Adore Ryan

By Timothy Noah, The Plank - August 15, 2012

The Tea Party has a lot of reasons to love Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand acolyte Mitt Romney selected for his running mate. But it also has one very big and little-discussed reason to dislike him. Here’s how Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson explain it in their 2012 book, The Tea Party and The Re-Making of Republican Conservatism:

The explanation for this inconsistency is that most Tea Party members are AARP-eligible. Surveys have shown 70 to 75 percent of Tea Party supporters to be 45 or older (compared to about half the overall population). Tea Partiers aren’t against government benefits. They’re against government benefits for other people. They just dress it up in antigovernment rhetoric and convince themselves that Medicare and Social Security benefits are different because they’ve already paid for them through payroll taxes (when in fact beneficiaries take out far more than they put in; that’s why both programs need periodic adjustments). Hence the nonsensical slogan, “Keep government out of Medicare.” The fact that Medicare and Social Security account for most of the welfare-state spending that Tea Partiers profess to despise (and about one-third of all federal spending) is something that Tea Partiers either don’t grasp or choose to ignore. 

Ryan’s Medicare plan has been through many iterations, but in all of them the single-payer system in which Medicare exists today would be replaced with a voucher system that would gradually shift medical costs onto senior citizens. A “public option” incorporated into one version of Ryancare would likely outperform private-sector rivals on cost control (government-provided health care always does), but there’s a real question whether Congress would allow a mechanism by which that public option could pass those savings on to consumers. (When a public option was up for debate in Obamacare, Congress worked mightily to cripple its inherent market advantage.) There’s also a real question whether Medicare’s elderly constituency is up to the task of rational consumer choice. As Yale’s Ted Marmor notes in a fact sheet for the Scholars Strategy Network (an excellent resource that posts online serious social science findings on various topical matters), close to 30 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries are cognitively impaired. “How are frail older people supposed to deal with complex, often confusing ‘choices’ among private insurance plans?” Marmor writes. “They can easily get lost or misled in a lot of evasive fine print.” Is this paternalistic? You bet. I’m certainly counting on society to treat me paternalistically when I enter my dotage.

Ryan’s continuing popularity among the Tea Party crowd, in spite of his planned assault on Medicare, can only partially be explained by Marmor’s 30-percent factor. Another explanation may be that Ryan’s plan would “grandfather” today’s elderly population out of his reform; they could continue to participate in Medicare as is. The choice of age 55 as a cutoff is, Skocpol explained to me in an interview, politically salient. “That age was probably a little too far to achieve the savings he needed,” she observed. “But it’s perfect [to demarcate] the line between Tea Partiers and everyone else.” The 55 year-old cutoff exempts from Ryancare close to half of all existing Tea Partiers (46 percent, according to a 2010 Winston Group poll). They can have their cake and eat it, too.

The calculation is not without risk. The 55 year-old cutoff still leaves 54 percent of all Tea Partiers having to live under the Medicare changes their candidate would foist upon America. “A lot of people are not going to feel very comfortable with that age cutoff,” Skocpol told me. “It’s a little too close.” Even if they aren’t affected themselves, it will affect “people they know.” So there remains a chance that a slender majority of all Tea Party members will wake up to the fact that supporting Paul Ryan on the GOP ticket is not in their financial self-interest. Ideally, Ryan should have excluded everyone over 45. But then of course his budget numbers wouldn't work at all. (Not that they work especially well as is; even Fox News doesn’t buy Ryan as a deficit hawk.)

Incidentally, my interest in this question is entirely altruistic. In January 2013, when Vice President Ryan would assume office, I’ll turn 55. Whew!

It seems to me unlikely that the under-55 population would long tolerate paying into a system that supports their elders in single-payer luxury while promising them in their turn a tattered voucher and a bunch of late-night insurance infomercials starring a leathery Robert Pattison. I'd give that maybe one legislative session before the boomers are swept out to sea in the austerity wave with the rest of us. Just sayin', Tim.

It seems to me unlikely that the under-55 population would long tolerate paying into a system that supports their elders in single-payer luxury while promising them in their turn a tattered voucher and a bunch of late-night insurance infomercials starring a leathery Robert Pattison. I'd give that maybe one legislative session before the boomers are swept out to sea in the austerity wave with the rest of us. Just sayin', Tim.

This is quality journalism. Clear and thorough. I especially like: "Tea Partiers aren't against government benefits. They're against government benefits for other people." If the Ryan plan is so beneficial, what other possible justification is there for not doing it for people over 55 besides hoping to get Republicans elected in spite of it?

This is quality journalism. Clear and thorough. I especially like: "Tea Partiers aren't against government benefits. They're against government benefits for other people." If the Ryan plan is so beneficial, what other possible justification is there for not doing it for people over 55 besides hoping to get Republicans elected in spite of it?

Great point on the paperwork. It's already hell at any age.

Great point on the paperwork. It's already hell at any age.

What inspired the tea party was the idea that was floated (it was never made into a proposal) to bail out those with underwater mortgages, which followed not long after the actual bail out of the bankers. Moral hazard? Or tea party bumpkins? Noah makes the point that "reforming" Medicare was not a tea party idea, but a Koch idea. I've made the point many times that tea partiers and progressives are not that far apart on most issues, they are just talking in different languages. Granted, many tea partiers suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome, so it matters not that tea partiers and progressives may agree on many issues. But at least some of the fault lies with progressives in treating ... view full comment

What inspired the tea party was the idea that was floated (it was never made into a proposal) to bail out those with underwater mortgages, which followed not long after the actual bail out of the bankers. Moral hazard? Or tea party bumpkins? Noah makes the point that "reforming" Medicare was not a tea party idea, but a Koch idea. I've made the point many times that tea partiers and progressives are not that far apart on most issues, they are just talking in different languages. Granted, many tea partiers suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome, so it matters not that tea partiers and progressives may agree on many issues. But at least some of the fault lies with progressives in treating tea partiers as bumpkins. I'm already in my dotage; my 55th is only a memory.

If they have that cutoff age I will fight like hell they get rid of it and put those selfish old bastards directly on the program I will be getting. Why the hell should my tax dollars go to support old leeches. If it is good enough for me, then damn right it is good enough for them. And if it is such a good idea, as Nush say why the hell wait 10 years unless you are admitting the system is inherently shitty. After all, no politician says lets off school vouchers in 10 years.

Democrats have to push the idea that public support for these medicare recipients will collapse.

Think of it, a 25 year old person will pay taxes for 43 years and then get a worthless coupon, meanwhile a 55 yea ... view full comment

If they have that cutoff age I will fight like hell they get rid of it and put those selfish old bastards directly on the program I will be getting. Why the hell should my tax dollars go to support old leeches. If it is good enough for me, then damn right it is good enough for them. And if it is such a good idea, as Nush say why the hell wait 10 years unless you are admitting the system is inherently shitty. After all, no politician says lets off school vouchers in 10 years. Democrats have to push the idea that public support for these medicare recipients will collapse. Think of it, a 25 year old person will pay taxes for 43 years and then get a worthless coupon, meanwhile a 55 year old will get premium health care when he turns 65 and if he lives to 98 he and present day retirees will be sucking down that 25 year olds taxes for decades. And where do all the savings go, why for upper class taxes. I have zero doubt if something this profoundly idiotic happened it could lead to anarchy. Frankly what I see happening is that Congress will enact the law, pass huge tax cuts in anticipation of future savings, and in 10 years a future Congress will blink and repeal the voucher program, and it will all be nothing but a huge scam to further enrich the rich.

" Medicare and Social Security benefits are different because they've already paid "

Correction: Teatards pay for the current beneficiaries and by paying sufficient FICA, obtaining the the right to 1)Social Security Retirement Insurance (RIB) benefits from their earliest entitlement age to the end of their natural lives, or Disability Insurance benefits until converted to RIB (without penalty)upon attaining full retirement age and the right of their spouse(es) and minor or adult disabled child(ren) to associated spousal and auxiliary child benefits; and 2) Medicare including premium-free Hospital Insurance and Medical Insurance (with heavily subsidized premiums), plus the GOP-structured r ... view full comment

" Medicare and Social Security benefits are different because they've already paid "

Correction: Teatards pay for the current beneficiaries and by paying sufficient FICA, obtaining the the right to 1)Social Security Retirement Insurance (RIB) benefits from their earliest entitlement age to the end of their natural lives, or Disability Insurance benefits until converted to RIB (without penalty)upon attaining full retirement age and the right of their spouse(es) and minor or adult disabled child(ren) to associated spousal and auxiliary child benefits; and 2) Medicare including premium-free Hospital Insurance and Medical Insurance (with heavily subsidized premiums), plus the GOP-structured rip-off (of taxpayers) Supplemental Medical Insurance coverage (Part C) and Prescription Drug Insurance (Part D). (Any age-eligible American or Legal Resident is free to obtain Medicare. However, if the individual is not insured (i.e., has 40 quarters/credits) that person must pay roughly $400+ per month for Hospital and Medical insurance.

I'd like to which of those teatards can obtain Medical Insurance--regardless of pre-existing conditions--from any health insurance company for $99.90 a month, let alone $400 per month. Particularly a health insurers whose entire risk pool is composed of seniors and disabled people.

"Ryan's continuing popularity among the Tea Party crowd, in spite of his planned assault on Medicare, can only partially be explained by Marmor's 30-percent factor. Another explanation may be that Ryan's plan would 'grandfather' today's elderly population out of his reform; they could continue to participate in Medicare as is."

Er . . . yes. And another explanation may be, you know, that Ryan and Romney are white guys.

"Ryan's continuing popularity among the Tea Party crowd, in spite of his planned assault on Medicare, can only partially be explained by Marmor's 30-percent factor. Another explanation may be that Ryan's plan would 'grandfather' today's elderly population out of his reform; they could continue to participate in Medicare as is."

Er . . . yes. And another explanation may be, you know, that Ryan and Romney are white guys.

The Tea Party has a lot of reasons to love Paul Ryan, the Ayn Rand acolyte Mitt Romney selected for his running mate. But it also has one very big and little-discussed reason to dislike him. Here’s how Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson explain it in their 2012 book, The Tea Party and The Re-Making of Republican Conservatism:

The explanation for this inconsistency is that most Tea Party members are AARP-eligible. Surveys have shown 70 to 75 percent of Tea Party supporters to be 45 or older (compared to about half the overall population). Tea Partiers aren’t against government benefits. They’re against government benefits for other people. They just dress it up in antigovernment rhetoric and convince themselves that Medicare and Social Security benefits are different because they’ve already paid for them through payroll taxes (when in fact beneficiaries take out far more than they put in; that’s why both programs need periodic adjustments). Hence the nonsensical slogan, “Keep government out of Medicare.” The fact that Medicare and Social Security account for most of the welfare-state spending that Tea Partiers profess to despise (and about one-third of all federal spending) is something that Tea Partiers either don’t grasp or choose to ignore. 

Ryan’s Medicare plan has been through many iterations, but in all of them the single-payer system in which Medicare exists today would be replaced with a voucher system that would gradually shift medical costs onto senior citizens. A “public option” incorporated into one version of Ryancare would likely outperform private-sector rivals on cost control (government-provided health care always does), but there’s a real question whether Congress would allow a mechanism by which that public option could pass those savings on to consumers. (When a public option was up for debate in Obamacare, Congress worked mightily to cripple its inherent market advantage.) There’s also a real question whether Medicare’s elderly constituency is up to the task of rational consumer choice. As Yale’s Ted Marmor notes in a fact sheet for the Scholars Strategy Network (an excellent resource that posts online serious social science findings on various topical matters), close to 30 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries are cognitively impaired. “How are frail older people supposed to deal with complex, often confusing ‘choices’ among private insurance plans?” Marmor writes. “They can easily get lost or misled in a lot of evasive fine print.” Is this paternalistic? You bet. I’m certainly counting on society to treat me paternalistically when I enter my dotage.

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