Bill Clinton to Paul Ryan: The Democrats need to do something about Medicare

A la Ron Burgundy, I want to say something. I’m going to put it out there. If you like it, you can take it, if you don’t, send it right back:

Ryan/Clinton 2012?

“So anyway, I told them before you got here, I said I’m glad we won this race in New York,” Clinton told Ryan, when the two met backstage at a forum on the national debt held by the Pete Peterson Foundation. But he added, “I hope Democrats don’t use this as an excuse to do nothing.”

Ryan told Clinton he fears that now nothing will get done in Washington.

“My guess is it’s going to sink into paralysis is what’s going to happen. And you know the math. It’s just, I mean, we knew we were putting ourselves out there. You gotta start this. You gotta get out there. You gotta get this thing moving,” Ryan said.

Clinton told Ryan that if he ever wanted to talk about it, he should “give me a call.” Ryan said he would.

Afterward, in an interview with ABC, Ryan begged Republicans not to go wobbly in the aftermath of NY-26. Quote: “This is a time for leaders to be leaders.” What’s Clinton’s game here, though? Not only did he tell Ryan privately that he hopes Democrats will act on Medicare, he said so in his speech a few minutes earlier:

Former President Bill Clinton, still widely considered one of his party’s foremost politicians, said on Wednesday that Democrats should cut a “reasonable” deal with Republicans on Medicare savings rather than conclude from Tuesday’s upset in a special Congressional election that bashing Republicans on the issue is the key to a party comeback in 2012…

“You shouldn’t draw the conclusion that the New York race means that nobody can do anything to slow the rate of Medicare costs. I just don’t agree with that,” Mr. Clinton said at a budget forum sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Instead, he said, “you should draw the conclusion that the people made a judgment that the proposal in the Republican budget is not the right one. I agree with that.”…

Mr. Clinton, with some passion, returned to the topic at the end of an hour-long interview. “I think the Democrats are going to have to be willing to give up, maybe, some short-term political gain by whipping up fears on some of these things — if it’s a reasonable Social Security proposal, a reasonable Medicare proposal. We’ve got to deal with these things. You cannot have health care devour the economy.”

The last thing Obama, Reid, and Schumer want before the election is one of their own elder statesmen — one who’s personally popular and famous for budget-balancing, no less — pressuring them to inch out on the Medicare limb that’s cracking under Ryan. So … why would he do it? Could be that he’s earnestly concerned about the Medicare time bomb and appreciates Ryan’s leadership on it. Remember, before Erskine Bowles was co-chair of the Deficit Commission, he was Clinton’s White House chief of staff. Or it could be that Clinton’s worried about Democrats being perceived as debt do-nothings even though the public, for the moment at least, is with them on the specific issue of Medicare. As we saw earlier today, the more the GOP can drive home to voters that preserving the program as-is necessarily means raising the debt ceiling again and again, the more potentially vulnerable Democrats are. Or maybe Clinton doesn’t much care what the White House thinks or what it might do for the Democrats’ electoral prospects. Being an ex-president means never having to say you’re sorry. Why not let it rip?

Whatever the answer, I think “We’ve got to deal with these things. You cannot have health care devour the economy” will make a dynamite little soundbite for attack ads next year. Get cracking on it, RNC.

Update: Clinton’s not the only prominent 90s politician showing boldness on Medicare reform today, but the reasons for this are far more obvious.