GOP budget would keep Medicare cuts, tax increases

Republican Representative Paul Ryan and President Obama are expected to meet soon.
Republican Representative Paul Ryan and President Obama are expected to meet soon.

WASHINGTON — House Republicans would preserve Medicare cuts that their presidential nominee loudly denounced last year and accept tax increases they sternly opposed just months ago in a new tax-and-spending blueprint that would bring the federal budget into balance by 2023, senior Republicans said Wednesday.

But the politically charged proposal, which emerged as the House easily passed legislation to keep the government financed through Sept. 30, is not expected to include workers currently 55 and over in major changes recommended for Medicare, after more moderate Republicans objected.

‘‘Our goal is not to pass a budget and forget about it,’’ said Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee. ‘‘Our goal is to get a down payment on this problem for America.’’


Although the House budget will not formally be unveiled until next Tuesday, the briefing by Ryan kicked off what could be a more orderly process of reviewing the nation’s fiscal picture after two years of chaotic clashes on the issue.

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As the spending measure advanced, President Obama kept up his charm offensive with Republicans in pursuit of a bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit and undo the automatic spending cuts that took effect Friday.

He dined with nearly a dozen Senate Republicans at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington on Wednesday night, and he continued his phone calls, speaking for some time to Ryan, the congressman confirmed. Obama is expected to invite him to lunch in the coming days.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of Obama’s fiercest critics, nonetheless accepted a dinner invitation from him. ‘‘I’ve always said I’m willing to work with anybody who’s willing to acknowledge the problem to solve it. Maybe that got noticed,’’ Johnson said. “I’ll certainly give the president the benefit of the doubt.’’

Introduction of the House budget will be the first substantive step toward any bipartisan legislative deal on the deficit, but the path forward is narrow and steep. Ryan said his plan would bring the budget into balance in a decade, much sooner than his previous two budget proposals.


Like those plans, however, the new budget would cut spending on food stamps and social services, convert Medicare into a system that gives seniors a fixed subsidy that would be used to buy insurance on the private market, and turn Medicaid — the health care program for the poor — into block grants to state governments.

Obama had denounced those proposed changes when he sought reelection against GOP nominee Mitt Romney and Ryan, his running mate, last year.

Ryan made it clear, however, he would extend some olive branches, for the sake of comity but also in pursuit of his balanced budget. The tax increases on the affluent that Obama secured in January during the showdown over the fiscal cliff will be reflected in the revenues Republicans expect to flow to the Treasury in their budget.

‘‘Revenue went up significantly two months ago with the fiscal cliff deal,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘We’re not going to refight that fight.’’

Also, Ryan offered tempered praise for the cuts to Medicare that helped finance the Affordable Care Act, cuts that he denounced as his party’s vice-presidential nominee but that will help him avoid subjecting people older than 55 to his Medicare changes.


“Because of Obamacare, you have — for a moment in time — lower Medicare spending rates,’’ he said.

With higher taxes, Medicare cuts, and an unexpected slowdown in health care spending, budget experts say the House budget needs only about $100 billion in additional cuts toward the end of the decade.

In Ryan’s last two budgets, he also banked the $716 billion in Medicare cuts under the health law for deficit reduction, but when Romney attacked the president for those cuts and pledged to restore that money, Ryan fell in line.

But Ryan had good reason to drop that pledge. He needed the money. As budget chairman he had argued that to get the budget to balance, he needed to have Medicare savings go into force earlier.

Before lawmakers can fight over the broad shape of the federal government, they must keep the current government open for business, and the House moved Wednesday to do that. The vote, 267-151, included 53 Democrats and indicated that the Senate would have little political latitude to take the spending bill in a drastically different direction.

The House bill gives military and veterans’ programs some breathing room under the automatic spending cuts that took effect Friday, increasing financing for Pentagon priorities. The measure also seeks to thwart the Postal Service’s plan to halt Saturday home delivery by requiring a six-day schedule.