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Why Democrats are cheering the Paul Ryan Republican budget plan

As they did last year, Democrats are attacking the Republican budget plan released by Rep. Paul Ryan as an 'end of Medicare as we know it.' They think it will help them in November.

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That’s what would happen under Ryan’s Medicare proposal, according to Gene Sperling, director of the White House’s National Council of Economic Advisors, as healthy seniors flee the standard Medicare system for cheaper private plans and seniors with health problems elect for standard Medicare. That would drive up the program's costs and push out more and more seniors until Medicare withers completely, the argument goes. 

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“When you create this type of two-tier system, the overwhelming economic incentive of those competing health plans is not to compete on how well you will offer the best coverage to the most people, but how successfully you will be on siphoning off the youngest and the healthiest of the senior population," Mr. Sperling said at the liberal Center for American Progress on Tuesday, “And once you do that, those left in Medicare will then be an older and sicker population who will pay higher and higher costs.”

Democrats feel emboldened because they believe polling is on their side. 

Nearly 3 in 4 Americans, and more than half of Republicans, want Medicare “as it is today, with the government guaranteeing seniors health insurance and making sure that everyone gets the same defined set of benefits,” according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released March 1.

Moreover, nearly half of Americans favor Democrats to deal with health-care issues, according to a Pew Research report released March 14, versus just over 1 in 3 who favors Republicans. That gap has widened to 14 percentage points from only two points in April 2011, the month after Ryan’s last budget proposal, according to Pew’s polling. Democrats have a similarly hefty advantage when it comes to Medicare, according to Pew data. 

Even with Democrats racing to outdo one another with budget criticism, Ryan says the stakes are simply too high for him to stay quiet.  

“If we simply operate based on political fear, nothing is ever going to get done,” Ryan said Tuesday. “If we allow entitlement politics, fear that your adversaries will turn your reforms into a political weapon to use against you, and we cow to that, then America is going to have a debt crisis.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is preparing a Democratic rejoinder to Ryan’s plan, to be released next week. 

“I welcome people to take a look at our alternative, and I hope people will compare them and they will find very different paths,” said Congressman Van Hollen. “One is a shortcut for the very wealthy to increased prosperity, and the other will strengthen the middle class and our economy overall.” 

RECOMMENDED: Five budget realities no politician will talk about (not even Ron Paul)

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