Paul Ryan eyes controversial Medicare changes
March 5th, 2013
06:10 PM ET
1 year ago

Paul Ryan eyes controversial Medicare changes

Washington (CNN) – House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan could be on the verge of reigniting another political firestorm over Medicare.

As part of his budget plan for next year, Ryan is considering dramatic changes to the entitlement program including possibly changing the plan for people who are currently 57 and older, according to several House Republican sources. That would be a shift from a repeated GOP pledge to wall off people who are now 55 and older from any impact of new reforms.

Ryan, whose leadership on fiscal issues elevated his profile and helped lead to his selection as Mitt Romney's running mate in last year's presidential election, is rolling out his budget next week. The Budget chairman and GOP leaders have held listening sessions with rank and file members to outline the need for significant spending cuts and entitlement reforms. While those discussions haven't included details, and aides and members caution no final decisions on the budget blueprint have been made, the Medicare proposals being considered include a range of ages.

But this move represents a shift for Ryan and GOP leaders, who as recently as the 2012 campaign stressed that his plan did not include any changes for Americans who are now 55 or older.

Republicans have proposed overhauling Medicare and in ten years shifting it from a government-run program to one that would give seniors support to help pay for private health care coverage.

GOP Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, a freshman who sits on the Budget Committee said it's fair to say some changes to what Ryan proposed two years ago are being discussed, including the age when reforms would start.

Messer said he was open to allowing Medicare reforms to apply to those now 57 and older, arguing that it's critical for the long term health of the program.

"Frankly in the near term changing that number does very little to balance the budget in ten years, but I think it's important because it has the recognition that if we do nothing for six years we will not be able to save these programs without making changes for folks that are older than 55," Messer told CNN.

The Indiana Republican conceded that there is a split within GOP ranks on the issue, and some do not want to be accused of reversing themselves on a policy they backed two years ago. But Messer maintained it was not going back because Congress failed to act then, and the program is in "even more dire danger."

"We're talking about the same people who are now two years older and nothing was done so, it 's the same folks who now may have their benefits and expenditures impacted," Messer said.

House conservatives pressed House Speaker John Boehner and other top GOP leaders for bolder action on deficit reduction at the annual Republican retreat in January. Shortly after that meeting House GOP leaders pledged that they would advance a budget that would balance in ten years. But that is a more aggressive timetable than was in Ryan's budget blueprint last year, which took more than 25 years to bring the federal budget into balance. And some GOP members say that new goal is making it harder for Ryan to reach that balance without more significant entitlement changes.

Ryan declined to answer questions about his plan as he left the weekly meeting of House Republican members on Tuesday morning, telling reporters, "You guys will see what we're doing next week."

Ryan's Budget Committee spokesman also declined to answer specific questions about the upcoming plan, but said in a written statement, "With respect to Medicare, House Republicans will again put forward a real solution to protect and strengthen Medicare for current seniors and future generations. His reforms ensure no changes for those in or near retirement, a sharp contrast to the real harm inflicted on seniors by the President's health-care law. It will be interesting to see how Senate Democrats respond to the critical need to reform Medicare. After nearly four years without a budget, will leading Senate Democrats remain complicit in the looming bankruptcy of Medicare?"

But Ryan's proposal, or the lack of clarity on who might be covered by potential entitlement changes, is causing some of his GOP colleagues some heartburn.

Idaho Republican Rep Mike Simpson, a former member of the Budget Committee, said he's still waiting for more details on how the Medicare reforms will work, but said he's heard some members express concerns about doing an about face on their pledge to voters that they would not make any changes in benefits for those 55 years and older.

"They've been home telling their constituents this for the last two or three years. To now all of the sudden change it – it's problematic," Simpson said.

Rep Peter King, R-New York, said on Tuesday, "I have concerns."

King didn't believe Ryan had settled on what the age cut off would be. But the New York Republican said he's worried "if we change the commitment we made several years ago that it would not go above a certain age."

Asked if it was a mistake for GOP leaders to pledge to balance the budget within 10 years, King said, "I don't know what's sacred about 10 years, but let's see what the numbers are."

Boehner brushed off a question about fellow Republicans raising red flags about Ryan's proposal, punting the responsibility to Ryan and the Budget Committee, and expressing confidence they would find agreement.

"I think we'll let them work it out and we'll see what outcome they get," Boehner said.

But as he predicted that the House would pass a short term government spending measure this week that would keep federal agencies funded through end of September, Boehner alluded to the bigger fight ahead on the budget.

"I'm hopeful that the President, Senate Democrats will get serious about moving a bill that solves, begins to solve our long term spending problem," he said.

Democrats, who wielded the Medicare issue against Republicans in the last election and believe it helped their 2012 election results, immediately pounced at the news that Medicare changes could affect older Americans.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, referring to GOP proposal, said "they try to color it up a bit, put some lipstick on it, but at the end of the day what they're essentially saying is they're getting rid of the guarantee that Americans have become accustomed to after paying for their Medicare. These earned benefits will no longer be guaranteed."

The Ryan budget will also factor in the forced spending cuts that began to kick over the weekend, after Congress failed to agree on a plan to replace the across the board reductions to federal programs.

"I think we would contemplate the spending level, but the menu of reductions would be more sensible," Messer said.

– CNN Producer Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.


Filed under: Budget • Congress • Medicare • Paul Ryan
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    Can't Romney find him a job at Marriott ?

    March 5, 2013 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    Meanwhile, the GOP/Teatrolls' sacred cow...America's corporate imperialist military...will remain at or about the same level of ridiculously wasteful funding.

    Please proceed, Teatrolls. Watching you hang yourselves is always delightful.

    /popcorn

    March 5, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  3. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    Hey, house gop morons, move to Europe and see how well their budget cuts worked ,higher unemployment . The gop has failed on all counts on economic policy for about 20 years and has never been secessful ,look at the last gop president . Then you have lyin Ryan the failed gop vp canadate , still tryin to mug the old people with his fantasy Medicare joke at our expence . Your going out with the rest of the gop trash in the next elections !!!!

    March 5, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  4. RINO Bill

    Go ahead and do it! The Republican Party would become extinct by '14.

    March 5, 2013 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  5. joe

    I am sick and tried of rich politicians refering to something I have worked for all my life as an entitlement. Mabe they don't need any help due to all the money they have made screwing this country but I need what I have worked for.

    March 5, 2013 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  6. jerryball

    Cut Washingtonian's governmental health care in a pare down for ALL.

    March 5, 2013 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  7. Michael

    I certainly hope President Obama doesn't cave on social security, and medicare and medicaid cuts. The Republicans are back with the same plan that lost them the election. Pres. Obama has maneuvered himself into a no win strategy with the sequester..

    March 5, 2013 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  8. Plantiful

    Paul Ryan should best leave programs that involve real people to those that at least think about real people. Oh yeah, Paul, those corporations..... yeah.... those are not people. A corporation is a collection of (real) people, which has a collective goal to sell services and product to their customers. They have no place in our government, and are taxed to help the society they are operating in and regulated to keep them from destroying the place where real people live and work and from killing people.

    So, Paul, go an play with your greedy little friends like the Koch brothers, and leave governing to people that can listen to their real people.

    March 5, 2013 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  9. K Arney

    What ever we do, make sure we don't allow anyone making over $250,000 to have to pay anymore taxes if we can squeeze an extra couple hundred from those old retired people over 57.
    Way to go Ryan, it does take guts to take from the old in order to save higher taxes on the rich. Almost like a modern day anti Robin hood. You can be proud of this as you get older.

    March 5, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  10. alan

    Is our leaders in washinton going to stop picking on the old are children its not hard to start with there giving away billions in foriegn aid all there free medical for there whole family and so far so on let's start there first and don't forget there big salary and free retirment all this and nothing is still done Hellllloooooo...

    March 5, 2013 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  11. Gerald Bursey

    This would make Seniors as makers and the Government as takers

    March 5, 2013 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  12. Randy, San Francisco

    Ryan's plan is a trojan horse to deprive health care coverage for poor seniors who cannot affort to pay the premiums. If this is the new Republican Party with better ideas, it is destined to lose the 2016 presidential election.

    March 5, 2013 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  13. Sandy L

    Yes, we as a country need to get serious about changes. Those changes could start with the senate and congress never again borrowing from social security (and even begin to pay back what they have borrowed). I have issue with calling any program that we, the workers of this country, have paid into an 'entitlement' – the current spin on that word implies that said 'entitlement' is not deserved nor justly earned. Not so. I would suggest one other place the senate and congress could start repairing damage would be their own 'entitlement' packages, which include retirement at full salary and lifetime health benefits (for which they have no fiscal responsibility, as we, the workers of this country, pick up their entire tab....Now, I ask you, is that fair? Doesn't that smack of 'entitlement' as currently defined? Put the lawmakers (all of them) in the same boat with the rest of the workers in this country and let's see how well they begin to cooperate to resolve some of these important issues.

    March 5, 2013 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  14. mozzarella12

    Just a question but when are they going to address the overspending entitlements given to the military? It must be that military contractors are the Republicans major contributors, rather than seniors and everyday people who have been paying their taxes for social security and Medicare for years–just to have the Republicans say, "Oops! That's an entitlement and you're not entitled!"

    March 5, 2013 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  15. John

    GOP honchos should have had meetings with ordinary citizens rather than "rank and file" party members.

    We need means testing applied to benefits and taxes, not age testing. Age testing places the greater economic burden on the lower half of the income levels, rather than the half that can afford it.

    March 5, 2013 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  16. promytius

    Is he Still talking? It's hard to keep a smoothed-tongued devil's lies, exaggerations, fantasies and slick, irrational phrases from getting into the air we breathe; we can hope.

    March 5, 2013 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  17. George Thomas Clark

    The GOP plans for allowing the sequester has now become clearer. This last election, they wanted a flat tax and privatization of Social Security and Medicare. They have lost the flat tax. They are now doubling down on privatization. The fact is privatization of these programs will cost the average person more. Private for profit companies will add costs to these programs for executive salaries, advertising, corporate profits, taxes on corporate profits, and political campaign donations, that do not occur with government management. The government charged Medicare last year 2.5 percent for managing Medicare Parts A and B. The Medicare Parts C and D, managed by private insurers cost 10 to 12 percent more, with less medicare options to the beneficiary. Corporate management of these programs is an unnecessary expense that does not add any value. We the voters would be far better off to increase the annual premiums paid to support these programs, then to add a useless expense that will only contribute more campaign money to further corrupt our government.

    March 5, 2013 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  18. promytius

    Climb every mountain; or at least list any mountain you've heard of; "to climb" = "to imagine."

    March 5, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  19. nosacredcow

    Wisconsin voter could have made him go away. But nooooo they had to thumb their collective noses at the rest of the country.
    i guess that Lake Geneva vote really holds sway...

    March 5, 2013 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  20. Name

    Paul ryan should be paid mimimum wage without insurance.

    March 5, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  21. scarf

    I'm 59 years old and currently paying $1400/month for medical insurance on the private market ($7500 deductible). I'm looking forward to Medicare as a way of decreasing my expenses so I can actually save some money on healthcare during retirement. I'll be willing to have Medicare changes affect me when Paul Ryan gives up his healthcare and pension.

    March 5, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  22. rob

    Hear comes the chorus from all sides: Repubs...OMG don't ever try to come out with a plan to stop this entitlement from going bankrupt , the Dems will kill us politically and the media will have a field day. Dems...OMG, can't believe they are stupid enough to try to come out with a plan to stop this entitlement from going bankrupt. Lets kill them politically and let the media have a field day.

    March 5, 2013 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  23. anne

    This man is dangerous in many ways. We didn't vote him into office as VP–and I don't want him tinkering with Medicare because he is a radical. No one with Tea Party ideas should have the power to change a system that he actually hates.

    March 5, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  24. castaway5555

    Ryan has repeated demonstrated a venomous ignorance. He's a one-man band playing a single-note tune. It's boring as heck and irritating. I can hardly wait for 2014; I think the good folks of WI will through and his monied family out of politics.

    March 5, 2013 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  25. Connie

    Why is Ryan only looking at cuts to social security? Should he not also look at closing loopholes that allow companies that make huge profits and pay no taxes get big refunds? Some loopholes need to be closed as well as spending cuts. Spending cuts alone are not enough. Come on folks, we need compromise!

    March 5, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
1 2 3