Republicans Ready To Punt On Ryan Plan’s Medicare Changes?

Republicans seem to have realized that the Ryan Plan's Medicare reforms aren't going anywhere.

Several news reports today seem to indicate that senior House Republicans are beginning to think about find a way to make a budget deal without going forward on the controversial changes to Medicare contained in Paul Ryan’s “Path To Prosperity””:

Senior Republicans conceded Wednesday that a deal is unlikely on a contentious plan to overhaul Medicare and offered to open budget talks with the White House by focusing on areas where both parties can agree, such as cutting farm subsidies.

On the eve of debt-reduction talks led by Vice President Biden, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) said Republicans remain convinced that reining in federal retirement programs is the key to stabilizing the nation’s finances over the long term. But he said Republicans recognize they may need to look elsewhere to achieve consensus after President Obama “excoriated us” for a proposal to privatize Medicare.

That search could start, Cantor said, with a list of GOP proposals that would save $715 billion over the next decade by ending payments to wealthy farmers, limiting lawsuits against doctors, and expanding government auctions of broadcast spectrum to telecommunications companies, among other items.

Democrats said they were encouraged by the move, which could smooth the way to a compromise allowing Congress to raise the legal limit on government borrowing and avoid a national default.

“There’s common ground there,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, who is representing House Democrats in the Biden talks

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that negotiators on both sides have worked on the outlines of a deal that includes measures to attack spending and the deficit, but which defers any reforms to entitlements or the tax system until after the 2012 elections:

GOP leaders and the White House are discussing a deal that would enact strict deficit targets and some spending cuts to win Republican votes for lifting the ceiling on how much the federal government can borrow.

The deal would defer contentious decisions about Medicare, Medicaid and taxes until after the 2012 elections. If such an agreement were reached, it would allow both sides to assure financial markets and the public of their commitment to reducing the deficit and then use next year’s campaign to lay out their competing visions for the future of major government programs.

“We’re not going to get a grand slam agreement. We’re not going to get a big, comprehensive agreement, because of the political parameters,” Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee told reporters Wednesday. “My hope at this moment is to get a single or a double.”

The outlines of the plan go something like this:

• Cuts or mandated limits on government spending programs that must be approved each year, such as for defense programs and regulatory agencies. This type of expense accounts for 39% of current federal spending.

• Cuts or limits on so-called mandatory spending, such expenses for farm subsidies, food stamps, federal employee retirement, student loans and housing subsidies that don’t require yearly appropriations. Mr. Ryan suggested a deal could exclude, for now, the biggest of these expenses: Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs and Social Security.

• Targets that would aim to bring the deficit below 3% of gross domestic product by 2015, a goal that would require more spending cuts or tax increases than the legislated cuts would achieve.

• To enforce the targets, automatic and credible spending cuts would be required if the Congressional Budget Office says policies in place won’t meet those goals; the administration wants both automatic spending cuts and tax increases.

Politico has a story up this morning where House Majority Leader Eric Cantor denies that the GOP is taking Medicare reform off the table, but this is the response you’d expect from the House leadership at this point, at least up until there’s an actual deal is announced. Punting the entitlement reform issue until after the election will, as Jazz Shaw notes, the GOP/Tea Party base is likely to be very unhappy so it makes sense to delay that anger until the last possible moment.

However, that “last possible moment” is getting closer and closer since it seems clear that a deal of some kind will have to be made soon if we are to avoid weeks of idiotic gamesmanship over raising the debt ceiling. Already, though, there are signs that more conservative Republicans in the House aren’t going to be happy:

“If it’s just tinkering around the edges, I don’t think that’s going to fly,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said earlier this week. “It’s got to be real, substantive, game-changing changes in the law in order for conservatives and Republicans to support increasing the borrowing authority.”

There’s just one problem, and it’s the same one that the House GOP faced during the government shutdown debate last month. Regardless of how popular the Ryan Plan is in the House, it isn’t going to pass the Senate, and it isn’t going to be signed into law by the President.  The only way there will be a deal is if both sides compromise, and if that means putting tax and entlitlement issues off until after the election that what it means.

Look at it this way, under a plan like this both the GOP and the Democrats would get the chance to put their vision before the voters and let them decide. If there really is as much support for massive spending cuts and entitlement reform, then the GOP would get the mandate they need to enact the Ryan Plan. If there isn’t, well then it’s back to the drawing board and both sides will have to find a way to fix our problems rather than just trying to score cheap political points. It’s time for Washington to grow up and get to work, and this seems like it would be a good place to to start.


FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Taxes, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Now would be the time for Obama to attack them for kicking the can down the road. No idea if he’ll do it.

  2. Except if you read the WSJ article, the Democrats are in on the deal

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I haven’t paid the WSJ so I only saw the quoted reference to “discussing.” Of course given Obama’s usual style he’s not a guy to come out of discussions and hammer the other side. Discussion is a sort of sacrament to him.

  4. tom p says:

    There’s just one problem, and it’s the same one that the House GOP faced during the government shutdown debate last month. Regardless of how popular the Ryan Plan is in the House, it isn’t going to pass the Senate, and it isn’t going to be signed into law by the President how massively unpopular the Ryan Plan is in the rest of America.

    Fixed that for you Doug. Dropping the issue may actually save a few House Republican seats, but I wouldn’t want to put a number to it. The ads write themselves.

  5. hey norm says:

    Here’s the rub…
    If you don’t abolish Medicare the Ryan plan only adds to the debt…and adds in a big way. It actually is far worse than the staus quo. So how do you even justify it? Clearly the Ryan plan is totally defunct at this point.
    Obviously we have no details but generally speaking I am happy with what Ryan describes as a single or a double. That’s how you win games. Just keep hitting singles and doubles and driving in runs. Once in a while you can leg out a triple. That’s the conservative way forward. It’s the Obama way forward. And it’s the right way forward for the country. Meep f’ing meep.

  6. Tlaloc says:

    Actually if there are serious adult voices in the GOP calling for compromise where it van be achieved then now is the moment to work with them. It’d be nice to encourage the arty to step back from the brink of madness since they’re one of only two that we have and they will win some elections. Anything we can do to convince them not to be the reactionary zealots they have been is good.