House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declared on Tuesday that Republicans needed to “go bold,” and he vowed that his new budget proposal wouldn’t be a step backwards from his ambitious plan that became the target of Democratic attacks last year.
At the same time, he indicated that he didn’t see much of a difference between his Medicare reform proposal that the House passed last year and another proposal he introduced with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Many conservatives (including myself) viewed Ryan-Wyden as a significant concession.
President Obama is due to release a budget on Monday, a week later than originally scheduled. Ryan predicted it would likely be a “status quo budget” and “political document” that avoided grappling with our nation’s debt crisis. This would allow Obama to demagogue the budget issue during the campaign by attacking Republicans for wanting to destroy Medicare.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said that he would not allow the Senate to vote on any budget this year. This has led to speculation as to whether the House GOP will re-introduce a budget on the scale of Ryan’s previous proposal, or back down.
“In 2012, we need to go bold,” Ryan said in a conference call with bloggers previewing his Thursday night speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. “We have a moment, an opportunity not just to run against Obama and his dismal record and win by default, as some are tempted to do. But to actually give the country a really very clear choice of two futures.”
I asked him about what this meant for the budget proposal he’ll introduce by April.
“We’re going to build off what we did last year,” Ryan said. “We’re going to pick up where we left off. We’re not going to go backwards. There are a lot of political consultants who would want to try to muddle differences. We want to accentuate differences.”
He continued, “We have every intention of advancing a plan that is designed to save our nation from a debt crisis and get us back to a path to prosperity.”
The central feature of Ryan’s budget was a plan to transition Medicare to a system in which seniors are given money toward the purchase of private insurance policy of their choosing, as opposed to the current system where money flows through the government and seniors don’t have a choice.
In December, Ryan and the liberal Wyden unveiled a modified version of the plan. Under Ryan-Wyden, money also flows through the individual, but traditional Medicare would still exist as an option that could be purchased alongside private plans on a new Medicare exchange. At the time, I critiqued the plan, questioning, among other things, whether there could be a truly level-playing field between a government plan and private plans. If not, and most people stuck with traditional Medicare, such a plan may not result in real reform.
But on the conference call, Ryan downplayed the differences.
“We don’t see that as a big difference, to be honest with you,” Ryan said. “Just more choices for people.”
My Washington Examiner colleague Conn Carroll later followed up, asking him to respond to conservatives who viewed Ryan-Wyden as a preemptive surrender.
“Not in the least,” Ryan responded. “I think it’s showing that liberals are increasingly on the outside looking in. The president is off the playing field, is not engaging in this debate and that he is more isolated from this growing consensus of moving toward a premium support system.”
Ryan insisted he had originally wanted to keep traditional Medicare as an option in last year’s budget, but didn’t because of “complications with the CBO.”
He added, “We shifted the debate. We shifted the center of gravity of the debate. What we’re demonstrating is that there is an emerging consensus on how to fix these problems.”
In addition to premium support reform for Medicare, Ryan said there was consensus that tax reform should involve a broader base with fewer loopholes and lower rates and that Medicaid should be modernized to give block grants to states so they could have more flexibility.
“What I think we’re doing is crystallizing the fact that an emerging consensus is here and Obama and Reid are increasingly on the outside looking in,” he said.
Ryan also rejected Reid’s argument that the Senate didn’t need to vote on a budget this year because the deal to raise the debt ceiling – the Budget Control Act – served the same purpose as a budget resolution by setting spending levels.
“If you say that the BCA is a budget, then heaven help us, then we’re going to have a debt crisis for sure,” Ryan said. “Because the budget control act didn’t go nearly as far as one needs to go to save the country from a debt crisis. And more importantly, it just keeps punting.”
Ryan said he and fellow Republicans would put together the details of the budget once the CBO releases its March baseline.