House Republicans are pushing back against reports that they are retreating from plans to reform Medicare in the face of voter opposition.
Aides told The Hill Friday that the media has created a “false narrative” of retreat and said the GOP is standing up for the 2012 budget resolution authored by Budget Chairman Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Healthcare: Ryan visits White House amid healthcare rubble Feehery: Freedom Caucus follies Press: Did Trump learn? MORE (R-Wis.).
“The Ryan budget is the overall Republican policy and that has not changed,” one aide said.
The budget resolution from Ryan, which all but four Republicans supported in a vote last month, would transform Medicare into a type of voucher system for people currently under the age of 55.
The GOP insistence that they are not backing away from Ryan's budget comes after a series of polls have been released that question whether voters are in the mood for any changes to Medicare.
Ryan's proposal intends to reduce the cost of Medicare to save it for the future, but polls, including one conducted for The Hill, have shown that a majority of voters oppose cutting Medicare benefits even if it would reduce the deficit. In The Hill poll, 53 percent of likely voters opposed Medicare cuts.
A poll released this week by Quinnipiac found a majority of voters opposed to making changes to Medicare similar to those identified by Ryan.
Republicans have also faced questions about town-hall events across the country. At some of the events, the GOP Medicare proposal has come under criticism.
A GOP aide insisted, however, that the overall message from voters was support for tackling entitlements.
“Yes, there were hecklers, yes, there were obnoxious folks … clearly not everybody agrees,” the aide said.
Another budget expert said Republicans have told him that they believe the outbursts were staged by interest groups and not indicative of how voters feel.
House GOP leaders in recent days signaled that entitlement reforms in Ryan’s plan would not be one of their conditions for raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Republicans are demanding spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, and started negotiations Thursday with Democrats and Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: I regret not being president Biden: 'McCain is right: Need select committee' for Russia With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE.
Republican aides now say it was never the intention of the caucus to demand Medicare be reformed in exchange for a vote to increase the debt ceiling.
On Friday afternoon, GOP leadership issued a statement of support for the Ryan budget, entitled the Path to Prosperity, and the Medicare reforms it contains.
House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorA path forward on infrastructure Democrats step up calls that Russian hack was act of war Paul replaces Cruz as GOP agitator MORE (R-Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) all joined the statement with Ryan.
Camp had on Thursday said he was not interested in moving a Medicare reform bill through the House only to see it die in the Senate.
“Yesterday, we began negotiations with the Democrats who run Washington regarding the Administration’s request for a debt limit increase. House Republicans are united in our approach to achieve real and immediate spending cuts and reforms today," the statement said. "These reforms and others are included in the Path to Prosperity, which passed the House with the strongest majority of any budget in more than a decade."
"We are committed to our budget and to making the reforms necessary to grow our economy and create jobs, preserve and strengthen Medicare, and put our nation on a path to pay down the debt,” the statement said.
Cantor on Thursday said he hadn't taken Medicare off the table in debt talks, but that the president had.
The GOP aide said that there is a deadline associated with the debt ceiling and “an urgency” to get it passed. If the Democrats refuse to negotiate on reforms of entitlements, there is little the GOP can do in a time of divided government, the aide said.
Without tying Medicare reform to must-pass legislation like the debt ceiling or a continuing resolution, aides acknowledged there might not be other legislative vehicles for enacting it in the divided Congress.
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) said entitlement reform is separate from the debt-ceiling issue and always has been. He wants to see the GOP continue to push for the Ryan budget’s reforms in the long term and ahead of the election.
Walsh said he would be “disappointed” if the GOP does not demand Medicare reform be included in a 2012 budget resolution hashed out with the Senate.
It is unclear whether the Senate will be able to pass a budget resolution this year, however, or if a showdown in conference to agree on a budget will occur.
The office of freshman Rep. Reid RibbleReid RibbleWith Trump, conservatives hope for ally in 'War on Christmas' GOP rushes to embrace Trump House stays Republican as GOP limits losses MORE (R-Wis.) also said Medicare reform is separate from talks on the debt ceiling.
“Congressman Ribble feels that the Biden talks are a separate discussion on spending cuts from the Medicare proposal. I think many in Congress are recognizing the political realities and limitations of the talks on the debt limit,” Ribble spokesman Brandon Moody said in an emailed statement.
“Even though Republicans only control one-third of the equation, we agree with Speaker BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill MORE that everything, except tax hikes, should be on the table to reduce our debt and deficits,” Moody said.
—This story was updated at 4:55 p.m.