Paul Ryan, AARP In Spat Over Medicare Plan

WASHINGTON -- AARP is firing back at Republican budget maven Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for accusing it of putting business interests before the needs of older Americans.

Ryan sent an email to supporters of his Prosperity PAC Tuesday, slamming AARP over its new multi-million dollar ad campaign that accuses Washington of trying to pay its bills by shorting the Medicare benefits Americans have earned.

The spot doesn't mention Ryan or any party, but it is clearly a shot at Ryan's budget, which would shift Medicare from its current from, a government-run plan, to a voucher-like private system in which the government subsidizes people to buy their own insurance.

Ryan did not appreciate the ad, and in the email, an adviser to his PAC trashed it.

"Last week, [AARP], a left-leaning pressure group with significant business interests in the insurance industry, launched a national ad campaign that intentionally misleads seniors about the Medicare debate," the email read.

Republicans in the House have taken aim at AARP recently, charging, like Ryan, that AARP is prioritizing its business interests over its advocacy. A lengthy report using much of AARP's own data suggested the income AARP gets from endorsing certain insurance plans was clouding its vision.

But AARP found Ryan's latest accusation nonsensical, because Ryan's plan would actually be better for AARP's business interests than the current Medicare system AARP is defending. It would shift tens of millions of Americans into the private market, and in theory offer a massive boon to AARP's business side, giving the influential lobby group little financial incentive to oppose the idea.

“We make decisions on policy based on what we believe will be in the best interests of Americans over age 50. A recent attack on AARP from a political action committee erroneously suggests otherwise," said AARP spokesman Jim Dau in a statement.

"The truth is that the budget plan passed by the House probably would present more opportunities for AARP to strengthen its finances, since every older American would be forced into private Medicare plans, including those that AARP brands," Dau noted.

"We opposed the legislation nonetheless because we believe the goal should be to strengthen Medicare, not upend it," he said.

One Capitol Hill operative who works on medical issues -- and who requested anonymity because he works with both sides of the aisle -- laughed outright at Ryan's complaint, instead seeing the logic of AARP's position.

"Paul Ryan hasn't been tagged with the stupid label before, but that's stupid. It's too obviously partisan," the operative said, suggesting AARP would do far better financially with the larger private insurance market envisioned by Ryan.

Ryan's email also accuses AARP of partisan maneuvering.

"Unfortunately, Washington’s special interest groups, like the AARP, have decided to play politics," the message concluded. "We either need them to have a serious conversation or get out of the way."

But Dau countered that AARP has been consistent, for instance opposing commissions such as those envisioned by the White House that would set Medicare rates.

Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, is not averse to listening to special interests in the insurance industry himself.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Ryan's Prosperity PAC got $83,250 in contributions from the insurance industry in the 2010 election cycle. The industry also donated $234,352 to Ryan's 2010 reelection campaign