Senate GOP budget to break with Paul Ryan’s blueprints

Senate Republicans will not include detailed plans to overhaul entitlement programs when they unveil their first budget in nearly a decade this week, according to GOP sources.

The decision would break from Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) House budgets from recent years, which Democrats used to pound Republican candidates in the 2012 and 2014 elections.

{mosads}Democrats repeatedly accused Republicans of wanting to “end Medicare as we know it. In breaking with Ryan, Senate Republicans want to avoid giving their opponents the same ammunition — especially with a slim majority and in danger of losing their majority in 2016.

The GOP budget would balance in 10 years, according to GOP lawmakers familiar with the document, but it will only propose savings to be achieved in Medicare and Medicaid, without spelling out specific reforms as Ryan and House Republicans did in recent budgets.

The Senate GOP blueprint will not propose reforming Social Security, the political third rail that Ryan also avoided as former chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“From the standpoint of a budget, the less words of the English language you use, the better off you are,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a senior member of the Budget panel.

When it comes to saving money in Medicare and Medicaid, Grassley said it’s preferable to “just have figures in there” instead of spelling out specific reforms, as Ryan did.

One GOP senator said Ryan exceeded his authority as budget chairman when he sketched out a detailed vision for overhauling entitlement programs.

“He spent a lot of time working on it but he had no power to write Medicare reform,” said the lawmaker, who argued the power to reform entitlement programs lies with the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means panel.

Ryan became chairman of Ways and Means at the beginning of this year.   

“We don’t have the power to write the details of Medicare, Medicaid, certainly not Social Security,” the GOP senator said. “You can direct the committee to do it and direct how much money they can spend but the details on how to reform it will not be done in the Budget Committee.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is expected to release his budget plan on Tuesday and his panel will consider it on Wednesday and Thursday.

A senior Senate GOP aide said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to return to “regular order” and would prefer the Finance Committee and other panels of jurisdiction to sort out the messy details of entailment reform instead of the Budget Committee.

Ryan’s plan curbed Medicare costs by giving future beneficiaries below the age of 55 a subsidy that could be used toward private insurance premiums, instead of having the government pay doctors and hospitals directly. His plan raised the eligibility age for Medicare by two months per year starting in 2022.

Ryan also proposed replacing Medicaid with a block grant program whereby states would received a fixed sum indexed to inflation and population growth to pay for the healthcare needs of lower-income residents.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank, estimated last year that Ryan’s proposals would cut Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by 26 percent by 2024.

Many Republicans praised Ryan’s vision at the time he unveiled his budget. Forty GOP senators voted for it when Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) forced them to vote on it in the last Congress.

But they are not eager to take another tough vote on entitlement reforms, at least this month, when the Senate GOP budget is scheduled for floor consideration.

The Finance Committee will be given a target savings number that it can use as the basis for an entitlement reform package that may come to the floor later this year, likely under special procedural rules known as reconciliation that would allow it to pass with a simple majority vote.

Some Republicans privately criticized Ryan after he became House Budget Chairman in 2011 for pushing bold entitlement reforms from his perch.

“Ryan was criticized for putting out as much detail as he did,” said one GOP member of the Senate Budget Committee.

Another senior Senate GOP aide said Ryan still acknowledged the jurisdiction of other committees.

“Keep in mind, the House budget had this in their report: ‘The committees of jurisdiction will make the final determinations on specific Medicare reforms,’” the aide said.

Former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said he supported Ryan’s approach but acknowledged it was a departure from precedent.

“Paul Ryan was laying out a very positive approach for how he thinks things should be,” said Gregg, a columnist for The Hill. “Historically the budget should be about the top-line number. It’s inappropriate for the Budget Committee to expect the Finance Committee to do anything other than follow the top-line number.”

He said Ryan’s approach was useful for giving his party a goal for entitlement reform but that he was not required by his relatively narrow duties as budget chairman to do so.

Shai Akabas, associate director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Paul staked out bold new ground as head of the budget panel.

“The budgets that lay out new policies are sort of going beyond what the required components of the budget are. In the past, parties have not done large reform platforms through the Budget Act,” he said.

It’s unclear whether new House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) will follow in Ryan’s footsteps either. But with a 30-seat majority, House Republicans can be more aggresive than the Senate GOP.

“Chairman Price, members of the committee, and the House Republican Conference are working together to build the FY 2016 budget,” said his spokesman, William Allison. 


Tags Budget Medicaid Medicare Mike Enzi Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Social Security

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