Ryan: Entitlement reforms could come back to haunt GOP

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged Thursday that the GOP will be handing Democrats a weapon when Republicans come out with a budget next month that proposes to pare back entitlements. 

“Is this a political weapon we are handing our adversaries? Of course it is,” Ryan said at an event sponsored by Politico. “I think everybody knows that we are walking into I guess what you would call a political trap that arguably we are setting for ourselves ... but we can't wait. This needs leadership.

“If you just follow the polls, you are nothing but a follower,” said Ryan, who predicted Democrats will demagogue his proposals in the 2012 election cycle.

He said he has not spoken with President Obama about entitlement reform, and believes that reforms to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid likely cannot be done before the next election. That would turn the next election into a choice on entitlement reform and the debt, he said.

Ryan said it "just boggles my mind" that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that he would like to tackle Social Security in 20 years. He added that it leads him to conclude that “we don't have any partners” among Democrats on entitlements.

Ryan is expected in the next few weeks to produce a budget for fiscal 2012. Congress is now debating how much to cut spending in the current fiscal year, but the debate over the 2012 budget is expected to be more far-reaching.

Ryan said that the GOP needs to tackle entitlements to end a political paralysis. 

President Obama did not propose entitlement reforms in his 2012 budget, and was criticized by Republicans and independent groups who said his proposals did not do enough to contain spending. 

Separately, a group of six senators, which includes members of both parties, is working to turn proposals from President Obama's debt commission into legislation. The group of senators is debating reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. 

Ryan said that the GOP is still in the listening phase on the budget proposals so he cannot say at this time what reforms to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security it will contain. He said he must still talk with authorizing committee chairmen about how much detail to include in the budget resolution. 

Ryan said corporate tax reform "is one area of agreement where I can see getting something done with the White House” this year. Ryan said he is opposed to tax increases to solve the deficit, but does believe that tax reform, done correctly, can raise revenue by spurring growth.

Ryan said the easiest thing to do on spending is tackle discretionary spending, which is why the fight over the 2011 continuing resolution is important.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats are battling over how much to cut spending, and are separated by about $50 billion. A bigger problem is the policy language that many House conservatives want included in the bill. Their proposals would defund the new healthcare law and Planned Parenthood, among other programs. 

The latest stopgap measure, which the Senate is expected to approve on Thursday, runs through the first week of April. If another measure is not then passed, the government could shut down.


Ryan said a shudown is possible, but that the GOP is not seeking one. On the other hand, he said a shutdown is "probably" not as bad as some people think, and noted Social Security checks will still be mailed out.