Paul Ryan's bid to overhaul Medicare to resurface in new Congress

Reuters News
|
Posted: Dec 12, 2014 4:56 PM

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The next Republican budget will look a lot like those written by exiting House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, eliminating deficits in 10 years and calling again for a massive revamp of the federal Medicare program, Ryan's replacement said on Friday.

Representative Tom Price, who takes the reins of the U.S. House budget panel in January, told reporters he will "build on" Ryan's proposals by devising ways to put more federal benefits programs under the control of states.

Ryan will take over as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. Over the past four years, he used his budgets to articulate a vision for Republican priorities that elevated him to the national political stage, even though none were passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Ryan's budget last year sought deep cuts to social safety net programs in order to achieve balance by the mid 2020s.

Price, a physician with four years on the Budget Committee, said a Republican-controlled Congress can now advance policies pioneered by Ryan, including his controversial Medicare plans.

Those plans would scale back the popular social insurance program for the elderly and disabled by limiting beneficiaries to a set amount of money every year to buy private healthcare insurance.

Known as "premium support," the program as envisioned by Ryan would mark a dramatic shift from the current Medicare system, under which the federal government helps pay for all medical services that an individual uses.

"The issue of premium support, internally is now basically settled policy for the Republican conference," Price said.

Republicans argue that this will save Medicare from collapsing as the massive Baby Boom generation retires, but Democrats and President Barack Obama say it would "gut" the program and shift a growing healthcare cost burden to seniors.

One potential way for Republicans to push through such a policy would be to employ a procedural tool that allows certain budget-related bills.

Known as "reconciliation," the maneuver was last used by Democrats in 2010 when they controlled both House and Senate, to pass Obamacare, President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare reform law.

Reconciliation can only be used in limited cases. Some Republicans say it should be employed to repeal Obamacare. But Price said his party needs to think hard about whether this might be a wasted effort, because Obama would be certain to veto such legislation.

"There aren't many opportunities to do a reconciliation piece of legislation, so we want to use it in the wisest manner possible," he said.

Republicans will soon decide whether they would be better off using reconciliation to pass reforms to federal benefits or tax reform, which Obama may be more likely to sign, Price said.

A March 2015 deadline to extend the federal debt limit would present a "pinch-point" to demand more spending cuts, but Price said this did not have to lead to a debt default crisis.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Tom Brown)