Ryan dropping Medicare age shift
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Wednesday that the balanced-budget blueprint he’s releasing next week will look a lot like the plan Republicans passed last year.
The Wisconsin Republican said the measure will project a balanced federal budget by the end of a decade and that it’ll only take “modest changes” to last year’s GOP plan to do that, in part because tax hikes enacted in January make the job easier.
Ryan’s plan is expected to lock in cuts to agency budgets, and curb the future growth of benefit programs like food stamps and Medicaid and contain a controversial proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program for seniors younger than 55. Ryan said it’ll take relatively small additional spending cuts beyond those proposed last year to gain a balance.
Ryan also said that he talked to President Barack Obama this week but wouldn’t characterize the conversation.
At issue is the process by which Congress passes a budget. The annual congressional budget is a non-binding document—not sent to the White House—that sets policy goals but leaves implementation to follow-up legislation like a tax reform measure and 12 annual spending bills.
Democrats controlling the Senate, who haven’t passed a budget since 2009, also plan to release a budget next week. The plan is expected to call for hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes and use the money to largely protect rapidly-growing benefit programs from budget cuts.
Ryan’s past budget plans failed to generate balance, in part because Republicans wanted to protect Medicare from cuts over the short term. But the task of writing a balanced budget got easier after Obama won more than $600 billion over 10 years from higher tax rates on upper-bracket earners. Ryan said the GOP budget would leave those tax hikes in place.
Most budget observers are skeptical that the House and Senate will be able to reconcile their differences, but Ryan said he’s “hopeful” that this Spring’s budget debate might generate results where others have failed.
“I think this whole thing will come to a crescendo this summer this summer and we’re going to have to talk to each other to get an agreement about how to delay a debt crisis, how to save this country from a fiscal train wreck that’s coming,” Ryan said. “Our goal and hope here is not to pass a budget and forget about it.”
Ryan’s comments come a day after reports surfaced that Ryan was floating a plan to reduce Medicare benefits onto people ages 56 and younger, the House Budget Committee chairman is saying he will exempt those 55 and older from his entitlement reforms.
Tuesday’s reports represented a shift from an earlier pledge to not touch benefits for those older than 55.