House Republican budget leader Paul Ryan of Wisconsin unveiled his proposed fiscal 2013 budget this week. While unlikely to become law, it will set the tone for fiscal debates in Congress -- and most likely partisan clashes -- for the rest of the year.
At first blush, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said he likes the Ryan budget, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she doesn't like it, and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., wasn't saying yet but hinted he will be supportive.
Ryan today was moving his blueprint, published in a 99-page book, through the House Budget Committee, of which he is chairman. Like a budget he proposed last year that was adopted by the Republican-controlled House (but not passed in the Senate), Ryan 2.0 calls for an overhaul of federal health insurance, deep cuts in discretionary spending and lower tax rates.
Supporters say it will take a bigger chomp out of the federal budget deficit than the blueprint unveiled by President Barack Obama last month. But critics said it remains too draconian, threatening mostly to programs that provide safety nets for seniors and low-income families.
On Medicare, Ryan's plan is similar but not identical to the "premium support" proposal from last year that would have converted the health program for the elderly into one that would, starting in 2023, grant vouchers to seniors to buy their own coverage. Under the new plan, beneficiaries would receive payments to buy into a traditional Medicare "fee for service" plan, or other insurance options.
Ryan argues that Medicare costs have grown out of control and must be brought to earth or else risk the survival of the program overall for future retirees.
But many Democrats, including Berkley, say the changes in Ryan's plan for Medicare are a distinction without a difference. AARP, for instances, says the premium support method would like "price out" traditional Medicare, making it difficult to promise seniors they could "keep their Medicare."
"I feel as if it's deja vu all over again," Berkley said in a House speech this afternoon. She maintained the GOP budget would still "devastate Nevada seniors by forcing them to pay thousands more out of their own pockets for health care."
"It was a bad idea for Nevada seniors when it was first proposed -- it’s a bad idea for Nevada seniors now," Berkley said.
Amodei said the Ryan plan for Medicare would have no changes for current beneficiaries and those older than 55 and nearing eligibility, while "preserving" it for future retirees. Obama's budget did not address Medicare.
Beyond that, Amodei said GOP spending cuts of $5 trillion (over 10 years) deeper than proposed by Obama would put the government "on a path to a balanced budget."
Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., who says he reads each bill before voting on it, was not ready to commit on the new budget plan, although he called it "a responsible fiscal framework." He voted last year in favor of the Ryan-written budget.
“I look forward to reading the details outlined in the recently introduced House Republican budget proposal," Heck said in a statement his office put out. "One thing is for certain, the direction for the country laid out in the President's budget puts us on an unsustainable fiscal path, leaves entitlement programs to go bankrupt, and would harm national security.”