Paul Ryan eyes controversial Medicare changes
March 5th, 2013
06:10 PM ET
5 years 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. Gurgyl

    He has NO clue.

    March 5, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  2. roro

    If he changes the plan for those 55 and older, he'll be dead politically. This creep has got to go!

    March 5, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  3. Scott

    What is next for the Republicans, Line us up in a line when we turn 70 and shoot us, more then likely they will want us to pay for the bullet also Is this Paul Ryan a real America. Understand this we have worked hard to make America Strong, You Destroyed our Saving, You put us into two UN funded Wars, Your taking away from our children education, You Destroyed America with your Greed and Power. It is time to dis band the Republican Party before they destroy what is left of America and what made it so Great!

    March 5, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  4. Maniacmudd

    Paul, Paul, Paul.... it's very obvious you do not learn from your mistakes. Just remember the Vice President that you are not...

    March 5, 2013 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  5. Brian

    Paul Ryan has proven himself as an enemy of the state.
    Over and over he proposes using citizens tax dollars for anything but a benefit to citizens .
    He would steal their funds paid weekly into Medicare and use those funds to pay back the bribes he has received by lobbyist. The big lie is that Medicare or social security are funded by taxes. They are self funded and are a benefit not an entailment . Paul Ryan is against all Americans that work for a paycheck. That is most of us!

    March 5, 2013 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  6. wiseup

    Paul Ryan has a short term memory. He was selling the big cut to medicare and the voters didn't buy it last year. Ryan is selling a plan with bigger cuts(voucher plan) again this year. I am tired of Ryan and other Repugnants talking about entitlements.Social security, and welfare. I AM entitled. I have paid into them all my life. to raise more income into these two increase the max paid into soscial security and welfare from ( I believe is $106000) .Raise it to $110000.

    March 5, 2013 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  7. Plantiful

    I like the sign in the photo background, "Wisconsin 1848." Ryan reminds me of someone from Germany, 1938.

    March 5, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  8. Dolores

    When speaking about budget cuts...why doesn't "Congress" get furloughed, i.e. salary reduction whenever they leave on their many vacations. Maybe they will look at things differently when it affects their income!

    March 5, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  9. g


    March 5, 2013 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  10. rokidtoo

    The rich are terrified that they're going to have to pay for grandma's Medicare. Therefore, they want to make sure that Medicare benefits are minimal. Of course, since many of the rich are also involved in the healthcare industry, e.g. hospital CEOs, insurance CEOs, pharmaceutical CEOs, medical device manufacturer CEOs, and doctors, they also don't want to see payments for their products and services reduced. A real conundrum.

    March 5, 2013 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  11. cbr

    Another younger member of Congress who does not have any idea how retirees live. He has not had jobs where he lived form week to week and he does not know how people live on very little. Not every retiree is fortunate enough to have a pension like that of a Congressman.

    Rep. Ryan needs more information before he begins this budget plan. It should not be his budget plan but rather a budget plan of his committee. He needs to remember this. He has not learned anything from the last election.

    March 5, 2013 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  12. bill

    Paul Ryan is still a youngster!!!-How dare he talk about cutting benefits for medicaid for people who have paid into the system many years more than him!!–Also-social security PAID HIS WAY through college!!!!-talk about a BAD INVESTMENT of OUR MONEY!!!!!!

    March 5, 2013 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  13. wiseup

    Ryan has a short term memory. Ryan tried selling this plan last year for people under 55 . Voters didn't buy it. Now Ryan is trying to sell it again,only now he is saying those over 57 won't be effected with cuts. this plan would be DOA in the Senate.

    March 5, 2013 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  14. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Hey Paul, the country sent you a message... GO AWAY!

    March 5, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  15. Miser

    The republicans should embrace the affordable health care act and attempt to make it "affordable." Use a wealth test for medical coverage and medicare premiums for those that can pay. Embrace ObamaCare and improve it. I turn 60 this year and I am in reasonably good health. My main concern is I would like s reasonable catastrophic health care premium so that my wife and I wouldn't lose the wealth that my we have worked for and saved over the years. Things happen, we both work now. We know we are fortunate but things can change quickly.

    I feel that the Republicans and Democrats are playing chicken and gambling with my money. Why don't our lawmakers act like leaders and reduce their benefits. I feel like Ryan and Romney would have said anything to get elected. That is one reason why I didn't vote for them. I wouldn't be surprised if Ryan gets some high paying corporate job if he doesn't get re-elected next time.

    March 5, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  16. tammyk tammy

    i want to personally congratulate Lyin' Ryan for narrowing the Republican base by driving another two years worth of voters into the arms of the Democrats. Taking into account that another two years worth of the Republican's aging base will be dying off before the 2014 mid-term elections, that chalks up a 4 year demographic advantage for the Democrats, NICE! Keep churning out those numbers on how to put the economic thumbscrews to future generations, you crazy numbers WONK.

    March 5, 2013 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  17. USwatcher

    Lyin' Ryan's lips movin' again? Some hardheaded losers never learn.

    March 5, 2013 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  18. rs

    The GOP: fighting to make health care unaffordable to anyone but the rich. Over and over, and over.....

    March 5, 2013 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  19. ruffwriter

    LIES ALL LIES!! It doesn't make any difference what both parties say about entitlement programs, when we know that the government is trying to make us believe that these are not earn benefits that we put into from the very first we began to work. Their real goal is to strip us of what rightfully belongs to us. Because altimately, this is about greed and how their pockets are never filled. BEWARE! THEY WANT IT ALL AND THEY WILL NOT STOP 'TIL THEY HAVE TAKEN IT ALL! They are liars and thives! WAKE UP PEOPLE!!

    March 5, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  20. wwf

    And you people cannot figure out why you lose elections. Wait until the mid terms. There is not enough ice in the ice caps to take care of your sore asses when the elections are over with.

    March 5, 2013 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  21. ARTraveler

    Of course, Representative Ryan will start by making sure that whatever changes they are proposing for the rest of us will also apply to members of Congress and that they will give up their high l;evel medicare care and pensions and be subject to whatever they feel is what the rest of us should have to endure. Note that most of us have paid into what amounts to an "insurance" plan that he now proposes to uinilaterally change. To even out the field, they should NOT be able to take any leftover campaign fuinds when they retire. If they retire, all monies left in their campaign funds (and going back two years so they can't have rewarded their friends) should be sent to Treasury to pay down the national debt that they helped increase.

    March 5, 2013 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  22. Bill

    "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 guess that is what some people would call leadership. But then, those people do not live or work in the real world. Pathetic.

    March 5, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  23. Will Discuss

    stupid republicans! Great diversion for democrats to attack. Let ride propose how to fix deficit then respond no ideas are better than providing a bull's eye for dems with timing like this it no wonder Repubs lost election!

    March 5, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  24. TNPatriot

    WOW, Paul Ryan (lyin ryan) LIED!! Big surprise...NOT. He just proved that the saying is true, if Paul Ryan's lips are moving...he's Lying!!

    March 5, 2013 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  25. Name

    Yes, I think Paul Ryan is trying to destroy Medicare for our Senior's.

    March 5, 2013 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
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