Ryan says GOP ready to take on health programs
Friday, March 11, 2011; 3:30 AM
WASHINGTON -- Republicans in charge of the House are facing two unappealing options on the budget.
One is to lead with their chins and offer politically toxic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and, perhaps, Social Security. Or, they could play it safe - but then endorse trillion-dollar deficits that would enrage their tea party backers.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the party's point man on the budget, is gearing up for a fight on the former, betting that American voters won't rebel this spring when he offers up controversial cost curbs on those popular benefit programs.
Even those tough proposals wouldn't balance the budget anytime soon. But Ryan says Republicans elected to take on Washington's budget mess must keep their promises in spite of the political consequences.
"I think the country's ready for this kind of discussion even though we are going to lead with our chin and they're going to demagogue us," said Ryan, R-Wis.
In a wide-ranging interview Thursday with The Associated Press, the chairman of the House Budget Committee said the House Republicans' budget proposal for the 2012 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 will propose fundamental changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the giant health care programs that cover 100 million Americans and whose combined costs rival the defense budget.
Ryan offered no specifics, saying details are still being hashed out.
"What I'm going to put forward is a serious and honest attempt to fix this country's fiscal problems," he said.
Ryan, 41, a rising figure in the GOP, has been tasked with both schooling the 87 Republican freshmen on the brain-numbing intricacies of the budget and devising a plan to wrestle the deficit under control. Both are big challenges.
"I see a willingness to embrace big things, I see a willingness to tackle the problem," Ryan said, describing the sentiment among Republican freshmen elected on a wave of concern about the growing scope and reach of government.
"When you walk people through just how deep this hole is ... it really does leave a lot of jaws dropping," he said.
Even if successful, Ryan acknowledges, the government's budget still won't balance for quite some time.