Washington (CNN) – They know better than to propose legislation in the current political atmosphere, but two political opposites came to terms Thursday on keeping Medicare solvent. They are left wondering, however, if their political parties will.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican Budget Committee Chairman who sparked an outcry this year by proposing to privatize all of Medicare gave in a lot. So too, liberal Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the Special Aging Committee, who is bound to spark an outcry from many within his own party.
Their proposal, unveiled in Washington, would "make sure that traditional Medicare, with its marketplace clout, popularity among seniors, low administrative costs was preserved for all time," according to Wyden. "That was hugely important," from the Democratic perspective.
But to help control costs, seniors would have the option of using private health insurance plans. "It is all a 'public option'," Ryan said of the current system, bringing back a phrase from the health care reform debate. "So this is moving us from that toward a patient-centered, choice-based system."
Only referencing Ryan's original position in a statement, the liberal Americans United for Change called the proposal "lipstick on a pig." It showed just how hard the idea of partial privatization may be to sell to Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Wyden told the audience at a Bipartisan Policy Center forum Democrats and Republicans could agree that Uncle Sam would put up a set amount to pay for seniors' coverage, as Ryan originally put forth. But he added flexibility to the new proposal which would allow Uncle Sam to step in with more help for those choosing private plans "if costs did go up [precipitously, so that] it just didn't automatically hammer the seniors with extra costs."
After the event, Wyden told reporters that despite the comity of the moment, Democrats might still hammer away at GOP votes on the original Ryan proposal, which was part of the House budget plan early this year.
Under the compromise proposal, seniors could choose private plans that are as good or better than conventional Medicare, they said.
The White House was unmoved, reacting that the new plan "would undermine, rather than strengthen Medicare," according to spokesman Jay Carney. It could "over time, cause the traditional Medicare program to wither on the vine," Carney said reading a prepared reaction, "because it would raise premiums forcing many seniors to leave traditional Medicare and join private plans."
He ended by calling the new plan "the wrong way to reform Medicare. That's our position."