Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s decision to tap Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate is bringing debate about Medicaid and other disability programs to the forefront.
As chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ budget committee, Ryan has made a name for himself by proposing sweeping changes to government entitlement programs and broad spending reductions, drawing the ire of many disability advocacy organizations.
While most groups are classified as nonprofits meaning that they are not allowed to come out for or against political candidates under federal rules, disability advocates have consistently lined up against many of Ryan’s policy positions.
“For each of the two years that Paul Ryan has been chair of the House budget committee, he’s produced budgets that we’ve opposed,” said Katy Neas, senior vice president for government relations at Easter Seals. “The pick of Paul Ryan gives people another opportunity to look at the policies that he and the other candidates have proposed.”
In particular, a Ryan proposal to dramatically cut spending on Medicaid while shifting control of the program to the states through so-called block grants hits close to home, advocates say. Last year more than 90 organizations banded together for a Capitol Hill rally to oppose cuts to the program which offers everything from long-term care to medical insurance for many with disabilities.
“Any deficit reduction plan that finds money on the backs of people who use Medicaid for their lives is unacceptable,” said Lara Schwartz of the American Association of People with Disabilities, noting that the eight million Americans with disabilities who receive Medicaid services are “already living at the margins.”
Beyond Medicaid, disability advocates said Ryan’s proposals to reduce domestic discretionary spending could disproportionately affect people with disabilities through cuts to programs ranging from special education to job training and transportation.
Schwartz said her group would be watching the presidential campaign closely to find out to what extent the Romney camp will embrace Ryan’s ideas, which Democrats have strongly rejected.
Since Romney announced his vice presidential pick, a campaign spokeswoman told Politico that Romney would not be bound to Ryan’s budget proposals but did not offer further details.
In response to a questionnaire from AAPD and other groups, President Barack Obama’s campaign said that he has opposed “efforts to block grant the (Medicaid) program, enact steep spending cuts and erode or take away coverage for tens of millions of Americans with disabilities.”
Romney’s campaign has not yet offered any responses to a similar inquiry, Schwartz said.