SPRINGFIELD — While Republicans across the country hailed the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate, US Senator Scott Brown struck a much more cautious note Monday, as Democrats tried to tie him to the congressman’s controversial proposals to overhaul Medicare and cut social programs.
Brown praised Ryan as a thoughtful and serious leader on budgetary issues, but the Massachusetts Republican was quick to point out that he voted twice to block consideration of Ryan’s budget in the Senate.
The senator’s ambivalent response underscored how Ryan’s selection has put moderate Republicans in a difficult position, balanced between upholding the party’s presidential ticket and not embracing the specifics of Ryan’s budget. Brown is in an especially tricky position, because he shares a top political strategist with Romney.
“It was a bold choice,” Brown said before playing in a charity basketball game in Springfield. “It certainly raises the bar when you want to talk about our country’s financial problems, and he’ll raise that conversation to a good level. . . . While we don’t agree on everything, I certainly appreciate his efforts to bring the budgetary ideas to the forefront.”
But Brown appeared to grow frustrated with repeated questions about Ryan’s proposals, some of which have the potential to spook seniors and swing voters, important blocs that Brown is courting.
“Listen, you’ll have to speak to Ryan about his ideas,” Brown said, walking away as a reporter asked him about Ryan’s plan to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 by 2034. “I have my own ideas, and we’ve been voting on them.”
Like Brown, Richard R. Tisei, a Republican who is trying to unseat US Representative John Tierney of Salem, praised Ryan’s willingness to tackle big problems, without directly embracing his ideas. In a statement Saturday, Tisei said the Wisconsin congressman was “a serious politician who sees our country’s economic problems in clear terms. I don’t agree with him or anyone else on every single issue.”
Tierney held a press call Monday with five local mayors, saying that a vote for Tisei is akin to a vote for the Ryan budget, which he said would drastically cut funding for public works, education, and health care. Tisei said he would not vote in favor of the Ryan budget if elected.
Democrats also tried to use the Ryan proposal to attack Brown, releasing a video that erroneously implied that Brown supported the Ryan budget. The video shows a clip of Brown saying, “And finally, you’ve got Congressman Ryan, coming forward with a budget proposal, thank God.”
The video cuts off the rest of the quote, in which Brown praises Ryan for jump-starting the debate over the budget, not for the specifics of his plan.
“I find it kind of ironic where I’m getting hit for supporting the Ryan budget when I actually didn’t support it, and I actually voted against it twice," Brown said Monday.
He said he opposed the Ryan budget because he was concerned that the provision to give seniors subsidies instead of traditional Medicare benefits would force them to pay more for medical care.
Initially, Brown seemed open to Ryan’s plan. In May 2011, he told an audience in Newburyport that he expected to vote for it, but did not expect it to pass.
But as Democrats and senior citizen groups criticized him, Brown’s office said he had been making a point about partisan gridlock, not promising to vote for the budget.
Later that month, Brown wrote an opinion piece in Politico, explaining that he would oppose the budget because of the Medicare changes.
He then joined four other Republicans in a largely party-line vote to block Ryan’s budget in the Senate. He did so again a year later, in May 2012.
While he has expressed deep concerns about the proposed Medicare changes, Brown has been less specific about his views on other parts of the plan. He demurred when asked Monday what elements of that budget he liked.
“Of course there are certain things you like, but bottom line, it didn’t move forward,” he said. “So I’m going to not worry about what we did before, but look at what we can do in the future.”
In follow-up questions, Brown said he supported Ryan’s view that corporate and individual tax rates need to be cut, but would not comment on Ryan’s exact figures.
Brown also declined to say whether he supported Ryan’s plan to eliminate mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, though he said they need fixing. He said he opposed deep reductions in food stamps and other domestic spending programs, but would not specify which of Ryan’s cuts he would support.
Brown’s campaign would not answer a follow-up question about his stand on Ryan’s plan to reduce Medicaid spending.
Brown meanwhile sought to pressure his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, accusing her of wanting to slash Medicare.
He pointed to Warren’s support for President Obama’s health care law, which would cut $700 million from future Medicare spending. Democrats contend the cuts will not reduce benefits because they are focused on insurers and providers. They point out that Ryan’s own budget depends on that cut to achieve its savings.
On Tuesday, Brown plans to deliver a speech on taxes. The state Republican Party laid the groundwork for that address Monday with a video that accused Warren of wanting to raise $3.4 trillion in taxes over the next decade, a figure she disputes.
As Brown and the GOP sought to move the conversation to Democratic tax increases, Warren focused on Ryan.
She wasted little time trying to link Brown with Ryan over the weekend and said Monday that Romney’s selection of Ryan “clarifies the central issues: Whose side do you stand on?”
She dismissed Brown’s opposition to Ryan’s budget, and pointed to other votes Brown has made, including those against raising taxes on the wealthy, and his support for oil subsidies.
Warren opposed nearly every major element of the Ryan plan, with few exceptions. She said she agreed with his proposals to reduce most agricultural subsidies and was open to the idea of trimming corporate tax rates, but would not name a specific number and said she would entertain the discussion only after corporate tax loopholes are closed.