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GOP Senate hopefuls split over Ryan’s prescription for Medicare reform

Allen noncommittal; Flake urges party to ‘go on offense’

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George Allen, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Virginia, has declined repeatedly to indicate whether he firmly supports the Medicare reform proposal being championed by his party’s vice-presidential nominee-in-waiting. (Barbara L. Salisbury/The Washington Times)

In selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney put Republican Senate candidates across the country on the hot seat as they decide whether to support his budget that would dramatically overhaul Medicare or to distance themselves from their party’s No. 2 man.

Mr. Ryan’s plan, passed by House Republicans but rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate, would change Medicare for those younger than 55 away from a defined-benefit plan into a voucherlike plan, where the government pays premiums and insurance companies compete for the business by trying to hold down costs.

But changes to entitlements for the elderly are always tough political sells, and Democrats already are demanding Republican candidates say whether they support or oppose Mr. Ryan’s plan.

In Virginia, the campaign of Democratic Senate nominee Tim Kaine said Republican nominee George Allen is now part of the “Romney-Ryan-Allen” ticket.

“The selection of Paul Ryan is going to make it very, very difficult for [Allen] to avoid talking about Medicare or Social Security,” Kaine adviser Mo Elleithee said on a conference call Tuesday.

Mr. Allen repeatedly has declined to say whether he firmly supports Mr. Ryan’s plan, and instead tried to shift the argument back to Mr. Kaine and President Obama, who cut Medicare spending as part of his health care law.

“Tim Kaine is the only candidate in this race who supports a plan that could bankrupt Medicare by raiding $700 billion for the health care tax law,” said Allen spokeswoman Emily Davis. “Tim Kaine’s prescription for seniors is higher costs, fewer choices and the government between patients and their doctors.”

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said voters can expect more where that came from.

“We’re going to see ‘Medi-scare’ from both sides. It’s just a question of which side makes a better argument,” he said.

Some Republican candidates have a voting record to defend. In Missouri, the GOP’s Senate candidate, Rep. W. Todd Akin, voted for the Ryan budget this year, but he too is accusing his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, of supporting the health care law and its Medicare cuts.

Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is seeking the GOP nomination for Senate, backed Mr. Ryan’s budget and didn’t seem worried it would hurt him in that state. He told the Arizona Republic the GOP should take the lead in arguing the government needs an overhaul.

“It works, if you go on the offense,” he said. “I hope that Romney and Ryan go right out and say, ‘We’re the ones with a plan to save Medicare.’ The only ones who want to end Medicare as we know it are those who favor the status quo, and that’s the president and his crew.”

In some races, Republicans are even touting their votes against the Ryan budget. In Massachusetts, Sen. Scott P. Brown was one of those who voted against the Ryan plan in the upper chamber, as was Rep. Denny Rehberg, the GOP’s Senate nominee in Montana, where he is running to unseat Sen. Jon Tester, the incumbent Democrat.

Mr. Rehberg is touting that vote as an act of integrity in a town overrun by partisanship.

“Rehberg refused to support a Republican budget plan that could harm the Medicare program so many of Montana’s seniors rely on,” a recent campaign ad says. “In a very partisan town, Denny Rehberg stands out — and that’s good for Montana.”

About the Author

David Sherfinski

David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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