Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden says he's joined forces with Republican Rep. Paul Ryan on a Medicare proposal to elevate the discourse about health care beyond a shouting match, despite the chance that the compromise might thwart his party's plans to attack the GOP during this campaign year.
The plan combines the current government-sponsored health program for older Americans with private-sector options. But by working with Ryan, a fiscal hawk in the Republican Party, Wyden could blunt an effort by Democrats to portray Republicans as working against older Americans.
After formally presenting the joint plan Thursday morning in a conference room near Capitol Hill, Wyden told reporters that the White House hadn't tried to stop him from going forward with the proposal. He said the White House was "aware," but he wouldn't elaborate.
Wyden also said that he'd "talked to a lot of activists" and Democrats about the joint plan. While he said that "we are not oblivious to the politics," Wyden repeatedly called for the parties to come together on Medicare, arguing that they don't disagree that much.
Though as a moderator introduced the two members of Congress and said their idea might draw flack in their own caucuses, Wyden offered his first words of the morning: "You think?"
"What we want to do is surface the fact that we talk to each other," said Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
But the lingering politics of the seemingly eternal fight over President Obama's signature health care law weren't absent from the room.
Making his case for a system that retains a conventional government system, Wyden argued that "traditional Medicare operates like a public option," referring to the provision scrapped from the health care law for which liberals yearned.
Ryan quickly interrupted: "Try not to use those words," he said.
Wyden also wasn't eager to linger on an old debate. "I don't see how it makes sense to dwell on yesteryear," he said. "We'd like to see if we can have a different kind of conversation."
The great Medicare compromise promises to "expand choice" for senior citizens by allowing private health plans to compete with the government option. The new system would start in 2022 and would include what Ryan and Wyden call a "premium support system" intended to lower the costs of private plans by comparing them to Medicare.
The proposal also promised that if Medicare spending rose more than 1 percent of GDP, providers and drug companies would see "reduced support."
"We know there's a campaign ahead," Wyden said. "But at some point you've got to start paving the way for the future."
Mitt Romney has embraced the plan from Ryan and Wyden; his campaign says it "aligns so closely with what Governor Romney proposed last month."
President Obama, on the other hand, isn't thrilled. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the administration is "concerned" that it would "undermine, rather than strengthen, Medicare."
"Even in their own proposal, there's only the hope of cost savings," Carney added.