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Top Senate Republican says Medicare plan still 'on the table'

| Monday, May 30, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The top Republican in the Senate said Sunday that a controversial House Medicare plan is "on the table" as President Obama and his GOP rivals wrestle over budget cuts to enact this summer.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on NBC's "Meet The Press" that he supports the controversial plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system in which future beneficiaries -- those 54 and younger -- would get subsidies to buy health insurance rather than have the government directly pay their doctor and hospital bills.

The House plan has come under a sustained assault from Democrats, who charge it would "end Medicare as we know it." Democrats successfully used the charge in winning a House special election in a strongly Republican district in upstate New York last week.

Asked whether he would concede that the Ryan Medicare plan won't be part of any budget deal this year, McConnell said: "No. It's on the table."

McConnell was referring to budget talks led by Vice President Joe Biden and senior lawmakers in both parties over what spending cuts to add to must-pass legislation to allow the government to continue to borrow to fund federal programs and prevent a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. bonds

But McConnell seemed to acknowledge that with a Democrat in the White House, the Ryan plan is effectively dead for now. The measure by the Wisconsin GOP congressman also fell well short in a Senate vote last week.

"I'm personally very comfortable with the way Paul Ryan would structure it," McConnell said. "But we have a Democratic president. We're going to have to negotiate with him on the terms of changing Medicare so we can save Medicare."

Appearing on the same program, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Republicans to abandon the House Medicare plan, noting an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that says it would require seniors to shoulder an increasingly large share of their health care costs.

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