Scott Walker Paul Ryan

Scott Walker, Paul Ryan


Today some Chicagoans are voting, theoretically for the last time, on 28 percent of the city’s aldermen. (Ben Joravsky has an entertaining take on some of the races.) But I’m just as interested, if not more, in the politics just north of the border.

I do not know if Wisconsin is actually a better place to work, as Scott Walker claims. But after a few years of Chicago being one of the sexiest beats in local and regional politics–between Obama, Blagojevich, Emanuel, Rezko, and the usual–Madison is now definitely a better place to be a political reporter.

* David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg are running in a "nonpartisan" election for a seat on the state Supreme Court. This is pretty important because the state’s embroiled in a big fight over what the law, you know, is:

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi ordered at about 8:15 a.m. Thursday that the law "has not been published within the meaning" of Wisconsin statute and "is therefore not in effect."

The short version: Wisconsin Republicans slammed through a law limiting collective bargaining rights. It was challenged in court on the basis that the legislative session was invalid under the state’s open meetings law. The circuit court and the Walker administration disagreed on whether that meant the bill had become a law or not (turns out there’s a lot more to it than the doctrine outlined by Schoolhouse Rocks!). If this goes up the ladder, the makeup of the state’s Supreme Court will be significant.

* As a side note, Prosser has inspired some choice negative campaigning; somewhere Lee Atwater is doing backflips in his grave:

* The Prosser/Kloppenberg showdown is also sort of a weathervane for potential recall elections; state Democrats claim they have enough signatures for at least one. They’re targeting eight senators, and the Republicans are also targeting eight.

* One of the Republicans targeted for recall, the entertainingly named Randy Hopper… well, let’s let Google show us the difficulties Sen. Hopper is facing:

* Hopper’s girlfriend, Valerie Cass, got a job with the state. But: she’s ostensibly qualified for it (the communications specialist studied journalism and previously worked for a political consulting firm); she has a college degree; and she hasn’t, to anyone’s knowledge, ever been arrested for a DUI, much less twice. The 27-year-old son of a lobbyist recently appointed to a $81k job? Maybe not so much.

OK, so Wisconsin is pretty entertaining. And arguably significant for Illinoisans, seeing as Rahm Emanuel is gearing up to negotiate/battle with local unions, and on the state level Christine Radongo is as well. I can’t imagine that the prevailing winds won’t blow some of that down. But still: you may be wondering what Wisconsin has to do with you.

Well, meet Paul Ryan.

The Wisconsin Republican is the House budget committee chair, and given the GOP’s current platform and general political concerns, probably the second most powerful Republican after John Boehner, seeing as he’s their fiscal point man. Ryan wants to semi-privatize Medicare: the government would still provide money for health insurance, but you’d choose from a "menu" of private insurance plans. Which would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, lead to higher premiums (PDF):

Both the level of expected federal spending on Medicare and the uncertainty surrounding that spending would decline, but enrollees’ spending for health care and the uncertainty surrounding that spending would increase. Under the Roadmap, the value of the voucher would be less than expected Medicare spending per enrollee in 2021, when the voucher program would begin. In addition, Medicare’s current payment rates for providers are lower than those paid by commercial insurers, and the program’s administrative costs are lower than those for individually purchased insurance. Beneficiaries would therefore face higher premiums in the private market for a package of benefits similar to that currently provided by Medicare. Moreover, the value of the voucher would grow significantly more slowly than CBO expects that Medicare spending per enrollee would grow under current law. Beneficiaries would therefore be likely to purchase less comprehensive health plans or plans more heavily managed than traditional Medicare, resulting in some combination of less use of health care services and less use of technologically advanced treatments than under current law. Beneficiaries would also bear the financial risk for the cost of buying insurance policies or the cost of obtaining health care services beyond what would be covered by their insurance.

Which is a long way of saying that Ryan would basically get rid of Medicare, insofar as it’s a single-payer system.

Obviously that won’t happen with a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate. But it does change the nature of the debate to have a Republican budget plan receiving a lot of press. Ezra Klein thinks it’ll push the Simpson-Bowles recommendations to the forefront as a compromise.