I grew up in a small town with an aging population, and I live in a suburb that’s a bit older than the area average. Even though the senior citizens in each town put their kids through the local schools, the school budget is always in danger of failing at election time. A few years ago, for example, the current parents and the senior citizens in my suburb engaged in a standoff. After the bond issue for the new library (the seniors’ pet project) was voted down, the budget authorization for the schools was voted down. A big PR campaign/forced love-in ensued and both issues passed the next election, but it was a pretty ugly example of how the last generation of parents is ready to hold the current generation hostage to get what they want.
Similarly, the partial dismantling of programs for the elderly that Ryan envisions won’t affect the current generation of retirees. Ryan and the Republicans are betting that their older base, which turns out reliably, will be happy to cut the retirement benefits of the next generation as long as the current generation gets theirs. I think they’ll find a pretty receptive audience for those cuts, and it might be a short-term winning strategy that leverages an ugly side of human nature.
Just to be clear: I don’t think all old people feel this way. To return to the small town example, school budget authorizations pass in part because a lot of fair-minded older people realize that their children’s schooling was paid for in part by the generation that preceded them. But there are certainly plenty of retired people on “fixed incomes” who don’t give a damn about the next generation, and they turn out regularly and reliably.