Ryan Budget Plan Draws GOP Flak


Some Fellow Party Members Oppose Idea He Floated to Change Age Cutoff for Medicare Revamp

House Republican leaders, faced with the daunting task of writing a budget that would eliminate deficits within 10 years, are backing away from a proposal to revamp Medicare for more Americans than previously suggested.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has in recent weeks floated the idea of rolling back the GOP promise that people 55 and older would be exempt from his signature plan to offer future retirees a subsidy to buy private health insurance as an alternative to traditional Medicare.

Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, right, promised a balanced budget within 10 years to win GOP backing for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling.

House GOP centrists are balking at the idea, and in a meeting with them Tuesday, Mr. Ryan said he would leave it to his party colleagues to decide whether to raise the age cutoff to 56—or even higher—in the budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 that he is unveiling next week, according to a GOP aide familiar with the meeting.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.), one of the centrists who was worried about the proposal, said after the meeting he believed the proposal would be dropped. “There’s a fairly good shot that the budget will maintain no [Medicare] changes for anybody 55 and up,” said Mr. Dent. “That was a concern that I think many members had.”

Mr. Ryan’s staff said the House budget’s Medicare provisions remain in flux, and no final decisions have been made. But the intense backroom debate over Medicare rules underscores the challenge facing Mr. Ryan and his party as they try to make good on their promise to House conservatives to balance the budget within a decade.

Annual budget resolutions set nonbinding spending and tax targets for fiscal years that begin on Oct. 1. They are being drafted at the same time Congress is laboring on a separate track on legislation known as a “continuing resolution” to extend funding for the final six months of the current fiscal year—a bill that must pass by March 27 to avert a partial government shutdown.

Democrats in the Senate are embarking on a parallel task, but Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray of Washington is preparing a budget that would include tax increases the GOP has flatly ruled out. Her challenge is to bridge differences between her party’s most liberal and more-conservative members over how much and how to raise taxes.

House GOP leaders’ commitment to write a resolution that would balance the budget within 10 years was made earlier this year to win conservative support for a short-term increase in the debt limit. That sets a demanding goal. The budget Mr. Ryan drafted last year wouldn’t have eliminated deficits for almost 30 years. But a small group of centrist Republicans who met with Mr. Ryan and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) last week are concerned about political fallout from even a seemingly minor change in the promise to protect people 55 and older from Medicare changes.

“We’ve gone out and told people something and now you’re going back on it,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R., Idaho), who said the sentiment runs strong among members in competitive House districts. “It’s problematic.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates it would take about $4 trillion in deficit reduction to bring the budget into balance by 2023. But GOP budget analysts say it will be easier now to achieve balance because Congress agreed to a tax increase in January and new projections of stronger economic growth imply the government will collect more revenue.

House Budget Committee spokesman William Allison said Mr. Ryan and GOP leaders who have been holding “listening sessions” with colleagues have made the case that “we were very close to balance in years past, and that path is not as difficult or extreme as people make it out to be.”

Advocates say the proposed change to Medicare would stabilize a program that is headed toward insolvency; critics said it would in the long-run raise costs to the elderly and undermine the traditional program. Mr. Ryan also has argued that it will only get harder to shore up Medicare the longer Congress waits to make changes. Many Republicans are willing to support the idea.

But House GOP leaders can’t risk including a provision opposed by even a handful of Republican centrists or those in marginal districts because the budget likely will get few Democratic votes. “We will do something we can pass,” said a senior House GOP aide. “I don’t think you are going to move the age up much if at all.”

A version of this article appeared on The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Ryan Budget Plan Draws GOP Flak.

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