Pointing to '90s welfare reforms, Paul Ryan defends his Medicaid plan

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) fired back Tuesday at Democrats who have questioned his compassion, saying his Medicaid overhaul would help poor people just as former President Clinton's welfare reforms did 15 years ago.

The Ryan budget, which passed the House along party lines last month, would reduce Medicaid spending below current projections by $810 billion over 10 years by transforming it into a block grant indexed for inflation and population growth. Ryan opened a hearing on "Strengthening the Safety Net" with a full-throated defense of his proposal, which he has said was influenced by Catholic social teachings.

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"On the eve of the 1996 welfare reform, Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) voiced his concern that the bill would transform America into a Third World nation, leaving 'children hungry and homeless … begging for money, begging for food, and even at eight and nine years old engaging in prostitution'," Ryan said. "Today, 15 years later, we are hearing the same kinds of hysterical predictions from critics of our budget.

"Last week, President Obama accused Republicans of being 'social Darwinists.' I didn't think Senator Lautenberg's outlandish accusation could be topped, but I think it has been."

Democrats acknowledged that welfare reform led to reduced welfare dependency and falling poverty levels. But they said Medicaid, which the Ryan budget would cut by 75 percent by 2050, is a completely different program.

"I think we'll find the comparisons end very early on," said ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).