Last night, the Washington Post suggested that despite overwhelming approving Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget just last month, Republicans may be slowly backing away from one of the plan’s most controversial and unpopular provisions: transforming Medicare from a guaranteed benefit into a “premium support” voucher for future retirees. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said that Republicans would “press for all the provisions in the Ryan proposal” during negotiations with Democrats and insisted that “the starting point is the Ryan budget,” but hinted that the party could be open to taking the Medicare changes off the table. “But Cantor said negotiators could avoid the ‘big three,’ which Democrats have vowed to defend, by focusing on changes in other areas. “If we can come to some agreement [and] act to effect those savings now, this year, it will yield a lot of savings in subsequent years,” he said. This morning, the Huffington Posts’ Sam Stein reported that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) would not hold hearings on Ryan’s budget:
Camp also threw a bit of cold water on the Medicare reforms included in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposed budget. He said that legislation to turn Medicare into a voucher system would likely not get a hearing in his committee.
“I’m not really interested in just laying down more markers,” said Camp. “I’d rather have the committee working with the Senate and the president, focusing on savings and reforms that can be signed into law.”
“I don’t think we can afford to wait,” he added, “I think we needed to make progress now.’
This represents a change in tone and a departure from how Ryan himself has characterized his plan in town halls across Wisconsin and to national audiences. Speaking to ABC’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday (for a segment that ran this Sunday), Ryan said that if Republicans don’t push boldly forward with his proposal, they deserve to be voted out of office:
AMANPOUR: And now people are getting worried, people in your party. Perhaps they might think it might even cost them the election. [...]
RYAN: Look, literally, Christiane, if all we fear about is our political careers, then we have no business having these jobs. If you want to good at these jobs, you’ve got to be willing to lose the job.
Despite the bold rhetoric, the GOP’s plan has been met with strong opposition and the party may now be trying to distance itself from Ryan’s proposal. In the past two weeks, as congressmen went back to hold town halls in their districts, a major constituent backlash ensued. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has repeatedly said that he is not wedded to Ryan’s plan and some GOP presidential candidates have also remained weary. Newt Gingrich, has said he would back a slightly more moderate version of Ryan’s Medicare plan and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) is also refusing to endorse the Ryan plan.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that “more than twice as many voters oppose efforts to change Medicare than those who favor limiting benefits.” Even after being told that told that “Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and defense comprise 60 percent of the federal budget,” 70 percent of voters said they were against reducing benefits while just 27 percent supported it.
TPMDC reports that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH) are also backing away from the Ryan Medicare plan.