GOP lawmakers eye voucher-like system for Medicare to ax deficits
WASHINGTON — Fired up as once-unimaginable spending cuts start to slice the federal budget, Republicans are starting a new phase in their austerity campaign: resurrecting the party's cost-cutting plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-like system for future seniors.
Despite public uncertainty about the $85 billion in sequester cuts, Republicans now believe they have momentum to ask Americans to make tough choices on Medicare as rising health care costs combine with an aging population to form a growing part of future deficits.
That effort will form the backdrop as the White House and congressional Republicans enter their next round in the budget wars: keeping the government funded through Sept. 30. Unless they make a deal by March 27, the government could run out of money and be forced to shutter offices and curtail services.
President Obama and Republican leaders signaled that they are eager to avoid another bruising battle and federal shutdown as both sides position themselves for the next major pressure point, in late spring or early summer, when the government faces a potential debt default.
Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee, is preparing a budget that aims to balance revenues and spending in 10 years. His effort has run afoul of the GOP vow not to change Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors and disabled individuals, for those now 55 or older.
Medicare eligibility begins at age 65. Ryan's approach would transform the benefits program into one that would provide a fixed amount of money in a voucher that seniors could apply to the cost of buying private health insurance or traditional Medicare.
Throughout last year's presidential campaign, the GOP promised not to change Medicare for today's seniors — only the next generation. But Republicans familiar with the number-crunching in Ryan's budget committee say balancing the budget may not be possible unless the changes start for those who are now 56.
Critics say Ryan's plan would shift health care costs from the government and onto seniors. Democrats who sharply criticized Ryan's proposal during the 2012 campaign say voters rejected his arguments when they re-elected Obama.
Even some Republicans who support Ryan's proposal are wary.
“Is it going to be difficult? It's the third rail. Sparks are coming off before you even touch it,” said Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., as he showed a photo of his grandchildren on his smartphone last week. “I want them to say Grandpa tried.”
Ryan's budget proposal is expected to lock in $1.2 trillion in sequester-linked cuts over the next decade, while also reducing growth in costs of Medicare and Medicaid, which is the health program for the poor, disabled and seniors in nursing homes. Other safety net programs, including food stamps and school lunches, also would be targeted.
Some budget experts, including Republicans like Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, are skeptical that Ryan can produce a balanced budget in 10 years. Others suggest it may be easier now with the tax hike on wealthy Americans that the White House won during the recent fiscal cliff crisis.
If Republicans determine they must step back from their 2012 campaign promise not to change Medicare for those older than 55, some lawmakers said they can pivot because a year has lapsed.
“When you sit down and explain the situation, people understand,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Damaged Jersey shore pier to be rebuilt
- Supreme Court allows Obamacare’s Medicare costs board to stand
- GOP budget proposal guts federal spending, health care
- Experts skeptical of N.D.’s new oil train safety checks
- Military leaders leery of letting in transgenders
- Mysteries of dark matter come to light in Science study
- A revolt is growing as more people refuse to pay back student loans
- Appalachian miners wiped out by coal glut they can’t reverse
- Benghazi panel formally requests private interview with Hillary