In GOP plan for entitlement reform, Ryan knows he's handing Dems a weapon

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (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 entitlement spending. 

“Is this a political weapon we are handing our adversaries? Of course it is,” Ryan said Thursday. “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.

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“If you just follow the polls, you are nothing but a follower,” Ryan said. 

Ryan is expected to produce his budget resolution for the next fiscal year by the first week of April, with a committee markup that week and a possible floor vote before the recess beginning on April 16.

The proposal should shift the debate in Washington from discretionary domestic spending, which has dominated the fight so far, to entitlements that represent a far larger share of federal outlays. 

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for 43 percent of federal spending in 2010, according to the Congressional Budget Office, but this percentage is expected to increase as the baby-boom generation retires. 

In the Senate, Budget Committee ranking member Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE (R-Ala.) said Thursday that he wants to see the chamber’s budget resolution tackle all three entitlements.

The move by Ryan will also raise the political stakes for both parties, and Ryan argued it could be an issue in next year’s presidential campaign. 

Democrats have hit Republicans hard in the past for proposed changes to Social Security, and an administration official told The Hill on Thursday that it would be “very risky” for the GOP to try to revamp Medicare next month.

President Obama left entitlement reforms out of his 2012 budget proposal, even after his debt commission in December recommended them. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) has offered to give Obama political cover if the White House proposed such reforms. 

Ryan has not discussed entitlements with the president, and said he does not believe Democrats are interested in a serious discussion about reforms. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE’s (D-Nev.) Wednesday comment that he would like to tackle Social Security in 20 years “just boggles my mind,” said Ryan, who concluded that “we don’t have any partners” with Democrats on entitlements.

Given the opposition he described from Democrats, Ryan said reform is unlikely before the next election, which he said could be a referendum on entitlements and debt. 

Ryan and his committee did not offer any details Thursday on the reforms they are considering, but Budget Committee spokesman Conor Sweeney said the GOP 2012 budget resolution would include “appreciable action” toward reform on all three major entitlement programs. 

The most likely GOP reform proposal is to move to block-granting of Medicaid to states. By only granting a preset amount of Medicaid dollars through block grants, the federal government would insulate itself from rising healthcare costs. 

 Medicare is the largest driver of the long-term deficit, and Ryan has favored a voucher system under which seniors would be given a set amount to buy their own health insurance. It is unclear whether such a proposal would be included in Ryan’s budget proposal.

Changes to Social Security might be less likely. The program is not a major driver of the debt, and tackling it will be the most controversial proposition.

Freshmen on Ryan’s committee, who have pressed their leaders to push for greater spending cuts from the White House this year, offered support for Ryan to take on entitlements. Some indicated they were willing to lose their seats over the issue. 

“We are here to tell the truth. If the people send us back home for that, so be it,” freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) told The Hill.

 “It’s a danger, but leaders lead. And we have a president who doesn’t lead, at least on these issues,” said Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.).

Over next week’s recess, committee members like Rokita will be holding meetings with constituents to gauge their desire for reform.

 Republicans attacked Democrats in the midterm elections for cutting $500 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years under the new healthcare law. The cuts were made to offset the cost of expanding health insurance to more than 30 million people.

As a result, the GOP could be vulnerable to arguments that it is cutting Medicare. 

But Ryan, who spoke Thursday at an event hosted by Politico, said there was a difference with the GOP argument against the healthcare law. He said Republicans were right to say that Medicare should not be cut to pay for a new entitlement, but should have clarified that reforms are necessary to restore fiscal balance.

 The Congressional Budget Office is expected to release revised estimates of the president’s 2012 budget proposal on Friday, and Ryan will use those numbers in drafting his budget. 

Ryan said that the GOP is still in the listening phase on his budget proposals, and that he must have talks with authorizing committee chairmen about how much detail to include in the resolution.