Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan puts Mitt Romney into flip-flop mode

(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

After watching the verbal contortions Mitt Romney has put himself through in the last week when speaking about Paul Ryan’s budget plan, it has become impossible to take seriously anything he has to say.

The soon-to-be presidential nominee of the Republican Party has praised Ryan’s plan as a commendable product of the “intellectual leader” of Congress. But, after naming Ryan as his running mate and being hit by a torrent of questions about the harsh particulars of Ryan’s budget, Romney and his surrogates quickly put distance between his own budget plan and that of his new political partner.

Yet, almost simultaneously, to keep the party’s conservative base from thinking he was shying away from Ryan’s fiscal rigor, Romney contradicted himself by describing his own plan as essentially the same as Ryan’s, apart from a few minor details.

And then, when the Romney campaign began running ads slamming the Obama administration for $716 billion in cuts to Medicare funding, observers pointed out that Ryan’s plan takes a similar amount out of Medicare. President Obama hit back on the campaign trail, insisting his cuts come at the expense of insurance companies and service providers while the costs of Ryan’s voucher alternative come out of the pockets of Medicare recipients.


In response, Romney announced that, as president, he would restore the money Obama took away -- which makes it hard to imagine he will become a champion for Ryan’s cuts. Implicitly, Romney has joined a growing list of Republican candidates running from the Medicare piece of Ryan’s budget.

Of course, if he gets to the White House, Romney might change his mind. Anyone serious about reining in the federal budget needs to reform the Medicare system, so it would be no surprise if President Romney tweaked Ryan’s Medicare voucher scheme and then offered it up as his own.

Not that he would stick with it if it brings him political heat. Almost daily, Mitt Romney reinforces the perception of himself as a man with no deep political convictions. There seems to be no position he will not give up if it has become a political liability. Much has been said about his switcheroos on healthcare, immigration, gay rights and Planned Parenthood since he was governor of Massachusetts. Anyone who thinks he really knows what Romney would do as president regarding Medicare or any number of other major issues, must be using a top-notch crystal ball.

Romney could not even stand by his wife when her Olympics-bound dressage horse became another symbol of the family’s elite economic status. Where once he talked with expertise about horse breeds and training, Mitt suddenly pretended the entire horse thing was just one of Ann’s girly hobbies about which he was oblivious.

He cannot even talk straight about campaign politics. During the Republican primaries when he was demolishing his opponents with a storm of attack ads, Romney scoffed at those who complained. Politics ain’t beanbag, he said, so grow some cojones and quit whining. However, now that he is facing an opponent as well-funded and as ready to play hardball as he was when he was gutting Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Romney has gotten a bit prissy and moralistic, complaining about the low tone of the campaign.

It is abundantly clear that when he is not spouting generalities and platitudes about the greatness of America and the wonders of free enterprise, the few specific stands he takes are completely provisional. Romney goes beyond mere flip-flopping; he never really lands anywhere.

Sincere fiscal conservatives are right to mistrust the man who becomes the official GOP nominee in a few days. Yes, he would probably further lighten the tax and regulatory burden on big corporations, but that is easy duty, popular with big donors and party stalwarts. When the tougher challenges face him, though, like fixing Medicare and balancing the budget, it is not hard to imagine Mitt Romney doing back springs as he runs away.