The Washington Post

Ahead of Ryan budget vote, party leaders sparred over plan’s impact on seniors

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slams the House Republican 2012 budget Friday at a news conference outside the Capitol. (Felicia Sonmez, The Washington Post.)

House Democratic and Republican leaders traded barbs Friday morning on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) fiscal year 2012 budget blueprint, hours before the House passed the spending plan on a partisan vote.

The dueling Capitol news conferences focused on the sustainability of federal entitlement programs and the effect that the Ryan plan would have on senior citizens.

House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) argued that the spending plan would preserve entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“The ‘Path to Prosperity’ budget will help us create jobs,” Hensarling said at a news conference after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. “It will save the social safety net programs, programs that have been of great comfort to my parents and grandparents, yet are morphing into a cruel Ponzi scheme for my third-grade daughter and my first-grade son. That’s why this vote is so important, to save trillions of dollars for the American people, to save our social safety net programs for future generations, to create jobs for our unemployed fellow citizens.”

Democrats seized on Hensarling’s “Ponzi scheme” remark at their news conference several minutes later.

“So, we now know exactly what they think about these very important programs,” House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (R-S.C.) said. He later added: “While Republicans are gutting Medicare and Medicaid with one hand, they are handing out tax subsidies for big oil companies and making tax cuts for the wealthy permanent with the other. And they’re doing so to the tune of one trillion dollars. That’s the Ponzi scheme.”

The debate over the bill is likely to continue over the coming weeks and months, with both sides returning to the same themes: Republicans making the case that entitlement programs as they currently stand are an insolvent “scheme,” and Democrats arguing that Republicans’ efforts to change the shape of those programs are the actual “scheme.”

At their news conference Friday, Democrats also enlisted several seniors to make the case that the GOP blueprint would endanger current seniors’ entitlement benefits. Pointing to a Maryland resident named Josephine, who spoke out against the Republican plan, House Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) argued that the GOP would ask “each one of you seniors, like Josephine, to give us $6,000, because I need to pay for $120,000 in tax cuts to a millionaire.”

“We have a message now that the Republicans have control of the House of Representatives: Hands off of our Medicare,” Becerra said.

Republicans have argued that their proposed changes to entitlement programs would not affect current seniors, only those younger than 55.

“That’s not a very long time” before those people retire, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said. “People think about the next generation. They think about their future. Fifty-five-year-olds are planning for their retirement, and having Medicare is a big part of that. And so, I don’t think that there’s anything soothing about the fact that we’re not abolishing it today but we’re going to abolish it soon.”


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