By Walter Alarkon - 02/03/10 01:18 AM EST
The White House is hammering Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan, seeking to contrast sharply it with President Barack Obama’s economic policies.
White House Budget Director Peter Orszag on Tuesday argued Ryan’s plan to cut the deficit through reforms to Medicare would raise healthcare costs for families and individuals.
Obama praised Ryan for having ideas at the retreat, contrasting him with Republicans who offered only talking points. But Obama also criticized Ryan, saying his plan would too strictly limit Medicare benefits.
Democrats at Tuesday’s House Budget Committee hearing were harsher; Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) said Ryan’s plan would “end Medicare as we know it” for seniors by making it impossible for some to afford health benefits they now receive under Medicare.
Ryan proposes that the deficit be closed by shifting some seniors away from Medicare. He would have Americans 55 and younger be issued vouchers to buy private insurance approved by Medicare instead of being placed in the Medicare system. when they grow older. Those older than 55 would stay in Medicare.
Those vouchers would grow in value over time, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates they would not keep up with growing healthcare costs.
“It does address our long-term fiscal problem,” Orszag said at Tuesday’s hearing of the Budget panel, where Ryan is the senior Republican. “It does so in a way that many policymakers might find objectionable.”
Ryan’s plan would lower government’s costs only by “shifting a lot of the risk and expected cost onto individuals and their families,” Orszag added.
Orszag’s criticism of Ryan on Tuesday is part of a sustained White House strategy to use Ryan as a foil. He took similar shots over the weekend while previewing the budget and on Monday when it was released.
Ryan fired back at the White House in a gaggle with reporters.
“The primary reason [for the attacks] is that they don’t want to talk about their own approach,” Ryan said. “It’s an embarrassment.”
The White House effort appears aimed at taking on GOP lawmakers who have portrayed the Democrats’ proposed Medicare cuts in healthcare reform as a attempt to cut benefits for seniors. By attacking high-profile GOP plans as devastating to seniors, the White House could counter that criticism.
Far from running away from a fight with the president, Ryan has embraced it. On Tuesday, he responded to Orszag’s criticism with a five-minute defense.
“We simply believe that the nucleus of our economy and our society is the individual, not the government,” he said. “And we believe we ought to have a safety net, to help people who cannot help themselves, are down on luck. But we don’t want to turn that safety net into a hammock.”