Final budget day for Rep. Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday will unveil what is likely to be the last fiscal blueprint of his tenure as the House budget chief, a document that will serve as a platform both for the Republican Party and his own political future.

The budget resolution, which Ryan’s committee will consider on Wednesday, is expected to stick to an agreed-upon top spending level of $1.014 trillion in 2015 while erasing the federal deficit within a decade, a top GOP goal. But as in past years, Ryan will propose an overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid that has become a lightning rod during election seasons. 

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The budget is expected to rely on a economic projection method known as “dynamic” scoring to help reduce deficits, a move likely to draw criticism from Democrats. Top Republicans have also said that while Ryan will stick to defense spending levels included in the December budget agreement for 2015, he may increase defense spending after that beyond President Obama’s request.

Ryan is finishing his fourth and likely final term as the top Republican on the Budget Committee, and he has said publicly he wants to take over the gavel of the Ways and the Means Committee next year, where he could have even greater influence in translating his vision for entitlement and tax reform into legislation.

“This is Ryan’s legacy budget, if you will,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Budget Committee.

The budget proposal, though familiar, provides a ready-made campaign platform if Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, chooses to run for the White House in 2016. And it could take on added significance as a legislative proposal if Republicans take control of the Senate after the November midterm elections.

“This is the launch pad that will shape the political struggle for the next several years in American politics,” Cole said.

House Republicans have successfully passed Ryan’s budgets on party-line votes each of the last three years, but GOP leaders could lose more votes this year than in the past. A handful of conservatives want the party to be even more aggressive in cutting spending in the short term and are leery of voting for a proposal that contains a bipartisan spending cap that 62 of them opposed in December.

On the other side, more centrist members are concerned about the deeper spending cuts that Ryan will need to propose after 2015 to balance the budget with a decade, due to updated projections from the Congressional Budget Office.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the Budget Committee, said the fourth Ryan budget would overlap significantly with the Wisconsin Republican’s last three efforts.

But Price also made no secret that it is tougher to make the math work this time around, with more deficit reduction needed for Republicans to hit their goal of balancing the budget within a decade.

“It gets harder, without a doubt,” Price told The Hill last week. “But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.”

In particular, the budget is expected to move up by one year the age at which seniors could see changes to Medicare and Social Security, Cole said. While the Ryan budget in 2013 promised that the proposed premium support plan would not affect people aged 55 or older in 2014, the latest version would only grandfather in people 56 and older in 2015, the first year the budget covers.

Still, Cole, who is a member of the whip team, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the leadership would secure enough Republican votes to pass the budget.

A House GOP leadership aide would not comment on the party’s vote-counting efforts, saying only that conversations with members over the last two weeks have been “productive.”

The party suffered 10 defections in 2013 and can’t lose more than 16 this year, assuming all Democrats oppose the budget as expected.

Ryan remains a highly popular figure both among the conservative rank and file and within the Republican conference, and it is his reputation that could win the final needed votes.

“I think voting against his budget is actually a big risk in a Republican primary,” Cole said, in a message perhaps aimed at the House’s most recalcitrant members. “I would hate to be the Republican who brought down the Ryan budget.”

A defeat on the floor, he added, would be “a shocking and disappointing moment.”

In addition to partially privatizing Medicare through an optional premium support plan, the budget is expected to repeat Ryan’s previous proposals to turn over more power over Medicaid to the states. And it could have additional anti-poverty proposals that reflect his recent focus on developing conservative policies to help the poor.

--This report was updated on Tuesday at 8:28 a.m.