President Barack Obama delivers a speech on the U.S. fiscal and budgetary deficit policy at the George Washington University in Washington, April 13, 2011. Obama proposed cutting ballooning U.S. budget deficits by $4 trillion over 12 years and called for talks with Democratic and Republican lawmakers to address the worsening fiscal woes. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)

The 2012 election has begun. The Republicans have foolishly embraced Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare, and President Obama saw a huge political opportunity and took full advantage of it.

Obama’s speech the other day laying out his plan for deficit reduction put forward an impassioned defense of Medicare and the safety net.

Speaking of the Ryan plan, Obama explained:

It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that 10 years from now, if you’re a 65-year-old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy the insurance that’s available in the open marketplace, well, tough luck -– you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

He then puts the proposed cuts in the context of Ryan and the Republicans proposing even more tax cuts for the wealthy.

They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That’s not a vision of the America I know.

I’m still stunned that the GOP leadership was stupid enough to let Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare become the central plank in their push for deficit reduction. It’s political suicide for a simple reason – the health care entitlement is critical to the quality of life Americans hope to have in their senior years. Imagine a person who is 85 and sick having to shop for health insurance with a voucher! It’s ridiculous.

When you also consider that much of our deficit problems can be traced directly to the Bush tax cuts, it’s even more absurd the the Republicans would try to use the current debt crisis to justify this radical change in our safety net.

It’s a political gift to Obama and the Democrats, and Obama made clear with his speech that he fully intends to take advantage of it.