Is Ryan an asset or liability to Romney's campaign?

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," August 18, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," forget the Democrats. Some Republicans are trashing the GOP ticket, saying Mitt Romney's choice of running mate spells certain defeat. So is Paul Ryan an asset or a liability.

Plus, the Medicare fight takes center stage. Is it one Republicans can finally win?

And America's nanny mayor invades the nursery. Two Wall Street Journal moms weigh in on Michael Bloomberg's call to hide the baby formula.

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

Well, that didn't take long. Within hours of Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, naming Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, so-called GOP professionals began to fret over the choice. According to the Beltway web site, Political Reaction, from Republican strategists and campaign operatives, range from, quote, "gnawing apprehension to hair-on-fire anger." Former George Bush adviser, Mark McKinnon, was one of the few to go on the record, saying, "I think it's a very bold choice and an exciting and interesting pick that's going to elevate the campaign into a debate over big ideas. It means Romney/Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party. And probably lose. Maybe big."

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; editorial board member, Joe Rago; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, I want to get to the worry warts in the GOP in a minute. But, first, it's been a week since the Ryan pick. How is it going so far?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: It's going great for them. I mean, they have -- this is exactly what Mr. Romney wanted to do. He had, up until this point, been running a referendum campaign against Barack Obama, hitting him every day with these things that are real liabilities for the president, the jobs numbers, the economy, all the things that people don't like about his administration so far. But he wasn't winning on that. So the idea here was to go big, make a big contrast by providing a real choice. So far, the amount of attention they've got, that's clearly playing out for them and it offers them a lot of opportunities going ahead.

GIGOT: Kim, one of the worries by some Republicans was that Paul Ryan -- Paul Ryan, we know, he's a policy wonk. He's a detail guy. He gets in the weeds. And that's not the kind of stump speech -- that doesn't make a good stump speech, that sort of thing.


How is he doing at handling the larger themes of campaign and serving as an attacker of President Obama?

STRASSEL: Well, the real reason Paul Ryan is a success he is, is because he's excellent at explaining those big themes. This is why he's won in his district, back in the competitive district in Wisconsin, over and over. He can talk about entitlement reform. He can talk about fiscal issues. He can talk about tax policy and tax reform. And that's clearly been his roll over the past week for the campaign, to go out there and make the big contract and say to people, look, you don't need to fear these changes. We're in a big issue problem here and these are the plans that we have to make it better.

GIGOT: It does seem to give Mitt Romney some energy. He's better on the stump. It seems to me, at least just watching him in the last few days, he's more passionate and engaged, seems more confident, even --


JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: And the same can be said of his voters. You look at all the enthusiasm, now, in terms of energizing the Republican base, I think there's an argument that Barack Obama was already doing that. But I think what you see with Ryan is the chance to turn some voters into real evangelists. and I think, for Independents, remember, they're -- they are as upset about the economy and Mr. -- almost as upset about it and Mr. Obama's performance as the people who were already identifying themselves as Romney voters. So Paul Ryan talking about growth and about economic progress, I think it's a good message.

GIGOT: What's the Democratic line of attack going to be against Ryan, Joe?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, it's going to be that he's heartless, that he is pitting children with autism against millionaires and billionaires.

GIGOT: Because of the reductions in the budget?

RAGO: Right. Exactly. But the thing is, it throws off the Democratic game plan. They thought Romney was going to pick some boring old guy. And --

GIGOT: I take offense that.


RAGO: And they were going to run about, on, you know, Mitt Romney the millionaire, and did he kill somebody's wife or not. And now --


-- now they're being forced to make an argument, really, on the direction of the country.

GIGOT: It does seem to have changed the debate and set the Democrats off their game a little bit, Kim. Although, they're going to still come back, I assume, with the cuts, spending cuts campaign. Is there a danger here that Ryan and Romney will fall into the austerity trap. That instead of pushing growth, as James stressed, they'll talk about spending cuts and shrinking the government so on, which for a lot of these swing voters that James mentioned, that's not the message that they want to hear. What they want to hear is, how are you going to improve my life, my circumstances, and give me more opportunity?

STRASSEL: Yes, and that's exactly what the Democrats are going to try to do to them. They're going to present them as the downer campaign, the guys who just want to take everything away from you, there's no upside. You saw Mr. Ryan, in particular, begin to address this this week, and he did start talking about growth. He made the argument -- he was like, look, people are going -- he actually addresses it -- people are going to focus on the cuts that we have proposed. But the important thing is we're fundamentally, first and foremost here, to improve the economy, make sure you have jobs, get revenues up. And if we can do that, then some of the cuts are more manageable. We need to focus on at that first. And that is a message they need to stress more.

GIGOT: What about these Republican worry warts with Ryan? What is it? These are Beltway sources we should say.

RAGO: Right.

GIGOT: These are people who play conventional politics.


GIGOT: I think they'll come around. you look the at the enthusiasm and I think that people will start to appreciate that what Mr. Romney said with this pick is that he's serious about governing and about improving the country. He's not just trying to win because he's the other guy and Obama's done a terrible job. And he's saying, we're going to turn away from the cliff. We're going to talk about growth. We're going to talk about reviving America and rejecting this new normal idea. And I think that is going to have broad appeal beyond conservatives.

GIGOT: What are you hearing, Joe, from your sources? Is there a lot of anxiety among Republicans or is this just sort of a Washington phenomenon?

RAGO: It's definitely a Washington phenomenon. The issue is, why are you in government? What do you want to do? Do you actually want to fix the problem or do you just want to string the problem along for years, as we --


GIGOT: So don't dodge the debate. Engage it directly. That's what Ryan's trying to do, solve problems. And you know, that's what elections should be about.

RAGO: Exactly.


When we come back, the Medicare fight. Conventional wisdom, such as it is, says this is a debate Republicans can't win. But Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan say, "Bring it on." So is it different this time around?


REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS., VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president, I'm told, is talking about Medicare today.

We want this debate.



GIGOT: Certainly, one of the reasons some in the GOP fear the Paul Ryan pick is the Wisconsin congressman's outspoken stance on overhauling Medicare, an issued long believed to be a loser for Republicans. But the Romney/Ryan team seems to relish that fight. And this week, they went on the offensive with an ad accusing President Obama of cutting the popular program to pay for the new health care law.


ANNOUNCER: You pay into Medicare for years, every paycheck. Now when you need it, Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare. Why? To pay for ObamaCare. So, now the money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program. It's not for you.

The Romney/Ryan plan protects Medicare benefits for today's seniors and strengthens the plan for the next generation.


GIGOT: Well, Joe, this is unheard of, at least in my lifetime, at the presidential level, a Republican going on the offensive on Medicare. What's the thinking in the Romney camp?

RAGO: The thinking is that the politics of Medicare changed, you know. For decades Democrats have run the Medi-scare campaigns --

GIGOT: Just like that ad.

RAGO: Exactly, where they saying that the Republicans are going to end Medicare as they know it. Now with ObamaCare, with the Affordable Care Act and its changes to Medicare, they think they can neutralize this kind of campaign. And voters might be able to give a genuine reform alternative a fair hearing.

GIGOT: Because ObamaCare actually did rewrite -- it turned the entire health care system upside down, including Medicare, taking money from Medicare to finance Obama-care to make that look like they didn't add to the deficit.

RAGO: Right. It cranked down the price controls for hospitals. It got Medicare Advantage, the program that gives one out of five seniors private insurance options, and it creates something known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

GIGOT: How does that work?

RAGO: This is a 15-member commission of unelected bureaucrats whose decisions are not subject to judicial or legislative review.

GIGOT: So, even Congress can't overrule them.

RAGO: Can't overrule them. And they're going to command medicine, tell doctors how to practice, how they should be organized, and eventually start to take make case-by-case decisions on what treatments the patience are allowed to receive.


GIGOT: So, this is the Obama plan for controlling Medicare costs?

RAGO: President Obama says Medicare's going broke, we've got to do something, there's no other option. Well, let's delegate all of these decisions to 15 technocrats and --


GIGOT: And Romney/Ryan are saying let's have an alternative. And our alternative is to basically open Medicare up to more private competition. You'll get costs down through competition. You make seniors more price conscious if they have to go out and buy their own health insurance, obviously, with the government subsidies. And one of the Democratic charges is that seniors aren't up to that. They can't do that. They'll end up having to pay more. Is that right?

RAGO: No, it isn't. The model is the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, which covers all federal workers, including members of Congress. The premiums support payments. The subsidy you're talking about --

GIGOT: Right.

RAGO: -- rises over time with health care costs. The idea is just by having seniors pay the margins, if they want the most generous benefits, they'll instead start to push down on health care costs. And that's really what the system needs.

GIGOT: James, I mean, you've been around a long time, too -- not as long as me, unfortunately.

FREEMAN: Yes, I'm getting there.


GIGOT: But the idea is that -- I mean, this is -- I've never seen this before. What do you think?

FREEMAN: It is a little weird.

GIGOT: You've got a little -- are you worried that they can handle it?

FREEMAN: Well, I think the reason they're optimistic is because -- you've now got a very clear choice, which is, let's see if we can reduce costs through voluntary incentives, or the unelected bureaucrats overriding your doctor, and saying no to the hip replacement, you're too old. Now, I think that latter plan, which is the Obama plan, along with the cuts that that ad accurately described, is I think going to be a loser with everyone. And that's why -- interesting, Democrats have loved this issue for years -- this week they could not wait to get away from it to talk about Mitt Romney's tax returns. The fact that they don't --


GIGOT: And Mitt Romney walked right into -- and Mitt Romney walked right into that trap --

FREEMAN: Right. GIGOT: -- with that gaff, saying, oh, I paid 13 percent every year, and --



FREEMAN: But the fact that Democrats, the left, does not want the Medicare fight is -- this is a seismic change.

GIGOT: Kim, is the Republican Party really up to fighting this? And I don't -- Romney -- I would think that Ryan is. It looks like Romney may be. But you know, there are a lot of Democrats who think we can now nationalize the House and Senate campaign races and take back the House, because the rank-and-file Republicans just don't know how to talk about this and they are afraid of it and they'll run away from it.

STRASSEL: The job of a presidential campaign is to lead, and you have to give Ryan/Romney credit that they're barreling ahead of this and, as a result, giving some heart to the Republicans. Helped by the fact, too, that you've got John Boehner and Mitch McConnell calling up their members, saying stay strong, we can do this. And because they are and they're getting information out there and actually turning the tide on this a little bit, that's going to encourage Republicans, too.

There was a fascinating poll out this week, Paul, in Florida. Rasmussen asked the question, when you think about the future of Medicare, what scarce you more, the president's plan or -- the president's health care bill, or law, or Paul Ryan's plan. Fifty-four to 34 percent of seniors in Florida said the president's health care law. That's the sort of stuff that encourages Republicans.

GIGOT: It's interesting. I'm 57. I hate to give that away.


But one of the things, this law doesn't start until you're 55.


GIGOT: Only for people under 55. I don't want to go into traditional Medicare when I'm 65.


I would much prefer to have private-sector choices. So I want to start right away, not wait until I'm 65.


GIGOT: But I -- I've got to get the last word in.

FREEMAN: Sorry. Sorry.

GIGOT: When we come back, first, he came for your Big Gulp. Now he's coming for your baby's bottle. New York's nanny mayor weighs in on the breastfeeding wars. Our own Kim Strassel and Collin Levy will tell you what they think about that.


GIGOT: First, it was trans fats and salt. Then it was big sodas. Now New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to limit new mothers' access to baby formula. Aimed at encouraging breastfeeding, the voluntary Latch on NYC initiative will monitor the number of bottles the hospitals use by keeping baby formula locked up like medication. Mothers who request formula for their newborns will be counseled on the benefits of breastfeeding. And each time a newborn is given a bottle, hospital staff will be required to document the reason. It's all set to kick in appropriately enough on Labor Day in 27 of New York City's 40 hospitals.

We're back with Kim Strassel, mother of three. Also joining us, Wall Street Journal senior editorial page writer, Collin Levy, mother of four.

So, Collin, having recently had twins, what do you make of this?


COLLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: I mean, this is craziness. This is just insanity. This is Mayor Bloomberg's breastfeed-or-else plan. And basically, that's going on here. And it isn't the first time, obviously, that Bloomberg has gotten involved with trying to increase people's health. This is -- as we've said, this is sort of his equivalent, infant equivalent of the Big Gulp. Formula is now a public health threat.

It's not the first time, by the way. About five years ago, Democrats got in on this act and say that formula should carry a warning label like cigarettes did --


-- like cigarettes do, to say that this could be hazardous to your newborn. This is just -- it's the latest in this battle. And it's another way to sort of make things even more difficult for women, which it's no picnic.

GIGOT: Well, on the merits, Kim, Bloomberg would say, look, it is healthier and I'm doing a public service here, and that's my job. We have a responsibility to make sure that newborn health is as good as it possibly can be. So what's wrong with that?

STRASSEL: Look, there's no question there are studies suggesting there are benefits to breastfeeding your child. I think one of the things that he forgets though is -- first of all, this is a highly personal decision. There are many reasons why women cannot or do not want to breast-fed. It could have to do with work, medications they're taking, with their emotional state. But I think the other thing though is the obsessive focus on this particular one decision in child raising. I remember when I had the first child in New York, as it happens. I was talking to my doctor about this. She was exasperated. She said, look, if you were so obsessed making sure your child had the absolute best start in life, the first thing you would do is move out of New York City.


GIGOT: Oh, and Mike Bloomberg doesn't want that.


GIGOT: He wants you here paying taxes.

STRASSEL: Right. You know, the pollution, childhood asthma, all these things. But instead, there is this obsessive focus by the media on the one decision, which, as you know, as you grow and your kids get older, it's one of hundreds, thousands of decisions about child raising that feed into whether or not your kid is healthy, both in mind and in body.

GIGOT: Do you think it makes any sense to have the hospital staffers or administrators, Collin, actually have to report why -- ask you, as a new mother, why you wanted to breastfeed -- to bottle field your baby, and then write that down and submit it to some, I guess, bureaucracy, when they ought to be treating patience and not spending time taking notes like that?

COLLIN: Yes, that's exactly right. It's creating a hostile environment in a hospital when women are often most vulnerable. They've just had a child. They're making decisions. So it's taking advantage of that moment.

Now, you have to know, breastfeeding has increased in the past few years. About 77 percent of women breastfeed their children now at least for -- for some amount of time. But this is a thing that also increases with education and income. In other words, the better off a mother is and, you know, the older she is as well, it tends to increase the likelihood that she is going to breastfeed her children. That's not an accident. If you can afford to stay home for six months with your child, you can afford to breastfeed.

GIGOT: But here's what Bloomberg would say in response to that. Look, it's all great for Kim and Collin. You folks are well-educated women. You make that choice. But what about lower-income women who may not be as well educated. And responsibilities as a government is to tell those women, who may not be well versed on the choices, that they have this opportunity and we need a little coercion, too, to make sure they make the right choice?

STRASSEL: Trust me, Paul, there is no lack of information out there on this. This is a sort of debate that rages through to the mommy world from any income you are.

And I would also like to point out I'm a well-educated woman that bottle fed my child. It doesn't always make -- it isn't always based -- there are lots of reasons to go into it. But this is just too intrusive on so many levels.


GIGOT: OK. Thank you, both.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.


GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Kim, start us off.

STRASSEL: This is a miss to Ecuador, which has been hiding WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, in its British embassy and, this week, granted him political asylum. Let's be clear, Britain has been seeking to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden, not because of his leaks, but because he faces very serious allegations of sexual abuse. Ecuador has decided to turn this into a spectacle, claims they are protecting him from political persecution. This is a thumb in the eye of the West legal system. Britain, thankfully, is not putting up with it. It has said it will not allow Mr. Assange safe passage out of the embassy and out of the country. Good for them. Let's hope they stick with it.

GIGOT: All right, Kim.


RAGO: Paul, this is a hit to Wisconsin Republican primary voters this week who nominated Tommy Thompson for the Senate seat this fall. The former governor and reformer faced a revolt from the conservatives. The problem is none of his opponents were likely to win this fall. So this is -- this is a hit because, as we keep learning, the marginal seats are the ones that matter for controlling Congress.

GIGOT: All right.


FREEMAN: This is a hit to the Mesquite Texas Pee-Wee Football Association, Paul, for ruling that 12-year-old Elijah Earnhardt (ph) is too big to play with the other seventh graders. This is no knock on Elijah. I'm predicting a big future for this guy. He's already 6-1, 297. But --


Given that size, this also allows the other kids in the seventh grade to have a future, period, and not have to play with him right now --


-- and suffer tremendous bodily harm.

GIGOT: That guy would crush me coming over the line.


FREEMAN: He's a big guy.

GIGOT: All right. And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at And be sure to follow us on Twitter at JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel, and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you here next week.

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