Strickland on Ryan budget: 'I would have voted no'

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After my blog post yesterday (below or here), Sen. Tony Strickland called to fully discuss his position on the House Republican budget plan drafted by GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

As I noted in that post, in a pre-primary, April 5 interview, Strickland told me that he gave "a lot credit" to Ryan for attempting to address the longterm solvency of Medicare. He said at the time that he did not believe Medicare rules should be changed for those approaching retirement, but that changes need to be made for "people my age" -- folks in their 20s, 30s and 40s (Strickland is 42).

We did not discuss a specific age where a potential cutoff for any future changes would be. And that, Strickland told me this morning, is where he has a serious disagreement with the Ryan plan. It envisions making an insurance-voucher system (rather than automatic enrollment in the government-run plan) optional for those under 55. Strickland says no changes should be considered for anyone 50 or older.

"Those folks paid into the system for years and planned their future," he said. "You cannot take the rug out from underneath them. I personally oppose any effort to take anything from people 50 and older."

Asked if that meant whether, had he been a member of the House of Representatives when it twice approved the Ryan budget, he would have voted against the plan, Strickland answered directly: "I would have voted no."

That would have put him in a distinct minority among House Republicans. In the April 15, 2011, vote on the plan, only 4 of 241 GOP members voted no (two others did not vote).

The plan includes many other elements, of course, including lowering taxes on the wealthy, cutting Medicaid spending by about a third and dramatically rolling back federal spending on nearly every program except for the military, Social Security and Medicare.

"I haven't gone through the whole Ryan plan," Strickland said when I asked if he had objections to any of its provisions other than the Medicare changes kicking in at age 55.

The Medicare provision is key politically, and Strickland noted that Democrats revealed their campaign playbook in the primary when they zeroed in on the Ryan budget's Medicare provisions in attacks on independent Linda Parks. "They're going to hit on the Medicare issue," he said. "They hit Linda Parks, for goodness sakes. It doesn't have to be true. I believe that was not an honest debate. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't truthful."

The AARP is attempting to arrange a "tele-town hall" discussion with Strickland and Democrat Juilia Brownley next month. It is one of only two districts in California in which it hopes to auto-dial all its members and give them an opportunity to listen in as their candidates for the House discuss issues of importance to seniors. If the AARP is succesful in pulling that off, expect Medicare to be Topic A in the discussion.

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Over the last 25 presidential elections, Ventura County voters have backed the winner 24 times, or over 95 percent of the time. It is one of only a handful of counties in the nation that has been such a predictable bellwether.
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The Ventura County Star's Sacramento Bureau Chief Timm Herdt on state issues and politics from Sacramento to Ventura County. He can be contacted at therdt@vcstar.com
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