Wisconsin Democrats are focusing on making Medicare the central issue of the fall presidential election, now that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville has been named Mitt Romney's veep choice for the GOP ticket.
"You could say that we thought that this election might be about repealing ObamaCare -- it's going to be about repealing Medicare," said U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who spoke at a rally today in Milwaukee. "That is not the America that we believe in. That is not the Wisconsin that we believe in."
"I come here today to remind us all that our fight for Wisconsin's middle class is not a political fight. It's not a partisan fight. It's a moral fight," added Baldwin to resounding applause from about 150 people gathered at the Laborer's Local 113 hall on the city's northwest side.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett echoed the theme that Ryan's plan "to end Medicare as we know it" has immoral overtones that will mean consequences for the elderly and the poor.
"It's important, really, to focus in on the Ryan budget plan, which has been embraced by Mitt Romney," said Barrett. "What specifically are we talking about? They want to move to a voucher-type system that would cause seniors to pay about $6,000 more out of pocket, at least. But if the vouchers are gone, there's no safety net then. What does this mean as a society? What does this mean if we're telling our elderly, 'Sorry, the vouchers are gone.'
"And Medicaid -- there's a misconception about Medicaid," said Barrett. " Probably two-thirds of Medicaid dollars go to people who are in nursing homes. And they want to transform that into a block grant and put more pressure on the states. But what if the dollars are gone? What do we say to the people who are in the nursing homes? Sorry? We're sorry? This is a moral fight."
Both Baldwin and Barrett stressed that they like Paul Ryan personally, and congratulated him on his nomination for the VP slot.
"He's a nice guy, he's a very nice guy," said Barrett. "The problem for us is, this is not about personalities, this is about policies."
"We've always managed to disagree without being disagreeable," Baldwin said of Ryan. "I consider him a friend."
But U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore was not so complimentary.
"I've sat on the committee on budget and I have seen Rep. Ryan's charts, graphs, number-crunching, statistics -- they say he's a whiz kid, that he's a self-described nerd -- and I have spent seven years scratching my head because those numbers don't add up, people," said Moore. She said Ryan's plan "reduces corporate tax rates and doesn't end corporate welfare."
"All it does is guts -- and I use that word with great fervor -- guts Medicare, increasing costs to seniors by as much as $6,000 and hands seniors over to the 'tender arms' of the insurance industry," said Moore. "It ends a dignified life, especially for women, by block-granting Medicaid so they won't have a decent end-of-life experience in a nursing home."
Moore said, "This is a choice election, between whether or not we are going to act as a community, as Americans, or if we're going to have a YOYO society (referring to the Internet slang acronym for 'you're on your own') and that's the message of the Romney-Ryan budget."
Other Dem lawmakers who attended, but did not speak, were state Sens. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee and Jon Erpenbach of Middleton; state Reps. Cory Mason and Bob Turner of Racine, Barbara Toles and Jon Richards of Milwaukee, and former Lt. Gov. hopeful Mahlon Mitchell of Madison.
Wisconsin Dems spokesman Graeme Zielinski told WisPolitics afterward that it makes sense to focus on Ryan's budget plan. "People know his plan and they don't like his plan to end Medicare. If the conversation is about Paul Ryan's budget, it's great for us."
Democratic supporters waved signs saying, "Ryan: Yes to Millionaires, No to Medicare," "Romney Economics: The Middle Class Under the Bus," and "Romney-Ryan Economics: It Didn't Work Then, It Won't Work Now."
Many eagerly said they would join a hastily arranged grassroots effort to rally at the Waukesha Expo Center later Sunday, where Romney and Ryan planned an appearance.