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A stark choice come this November
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I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.

While, as Asst. Editor Michael Ulmer put it Wednesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s choice of Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as vice presidential running mate maybe made sense out of those available, he doesn’t make any sense to me.

The idea of him being “a heartbeat away from the presidency” makes me very, very nervous. I consider myself a centrist, or moderate, Democrat. There are many things I like from the Democratic Party, some things I like from the Republican Party, and things I can’t stand on either side.

From my centrist point of view, if Romney wanted to convince me that compromise and national reconciliation -- things I believe are sorely needed -- are on his agenda, he should have made an even bolder choice.

Let’s start with Medicare. According to CBS News, Ryan, as House Budget Committee chairman, has proposed a budget that would turn Medicare into what some people call a “premium support” or “voucher” program. As CBS explains, “...instead of paying for the benefits a senior uses, the government offers a senior a predefined amount of money to spend in a health insurance exchange.”  Starting in 2023 -- when I’m 58, just seven years from eligibility -- “the plan would give seniors vouchers to purchase either private insurance or traditional, government-run insurance on an exchange.”

But what if the vouchers don’t cover expenses for my particular medical condition?

I absolutely want the government to curtail wasteful spending and enact fair taxes to cover what it does spend, but I also don’t want to be laying at home, too sick to work or spend time with my family because the government says it can’t afford to get me the care I need. Even if that dire scenario doesn’t come to pass, there are indications that even if I get the same care, Ryan’s plan could actually cost me more. This is better?

“Obamacare” -- a term our current president has come to embrace as “Obama cares” -- while certainly not perfect, is helping people who have never been helped by healthcare insurance before. As Georgia U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson wrote on the Huffington Post recently, “The law protects those who suffer from pre-existing conditions, prevents insurance companies from dropping Americans who get sick, helps seniors pay for prescriptions, allows young adults to get coverage through their parents, provides small business owners with tax credits and bans insurance companies from continuing their practice of charging women 150 percent for the same coverage as men.”

Speaking of women, women’s rights group Ultra Violet put out a thought-provoking graphic about Ryan’s record on women’s issues. They say he voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood, would criminalize certain forms of birth control and outlaw in vitro fertilization.

On that last one, MotherJones.com, a non-profit news organization, notes that Ryan co-sponsored The Sanctity of Human Life Act which would have “enshrined the notion that life begins at fertilization in federal law, thus criminalizing in vitro fertilization” -- a choice many couples make in order to have children.

In fact, Mother Jones points out, three of Romney’s children have used in vitro methods in order to have some of the presidential candidate’s 18 grandchildren.

After being introduced as the vice presidential nominee, The Washington Post came out with an article saying Romney picking Ryan sets up a “stark choice” for November.

In addition to revamping Medicare, the Post says Ryan’s plans include deep spending cuts and restructuring the tax code, “even for the wealthy.”

On its opinion page, the Post  said it has “differed sharply with Ryan’s policy proposals, which would cut far too deeply into an already fraying social safety net and raise too little revenue to support the needs of an aging society.” Later: “...in a move that seems guaranteed to drain money from the Treasury, taxpayers would be able to choose” between the existing tax system and one with just two rates, 10 percent and 25 percent.

Talking Points Memo (TPM) notes that Ryan’s proposals have included privatizing Social Security by “shifting (those) funds to private retirement accounts as well as reducing benefits and gradually raising the age of eligibility.” The idea, apparently, is to “protect against market fluctuations by guaranteeing seniors a rate return at least equal to the rate of inflation,” TMP continues, “but funding losses from stock market swings could endanger the solvency of the program.”

Luckily, even the George W. Bush administration called Ryan’s plan “irresponsible,” according to TPM, and it was dropped by his fellow Republicans after they won the U.S. House.

And just in case you didn’t think politicians could get any more flip-floppery, check out how Ryan criticized and supported Bush’s TARP (bank bailout) in one sentence back in October 2008: “Madame Speaker, this bill offends my principles, but I’m going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles.”

Huh?

Look, I’m not going to sit here and say Joe Biden’s the greatest VP ever -- he’s not. But, I’m far more comfortable with him being “next in line” than someone like Ryan who seems like someone ready to throw seniors, women, children and, basically, the entire middle class off the proverbial cliff.