WASHINGTON — Conservative House Republicans on Tuesday set up what appears to be a potential rerun of last year's turbulent domestic policy fight with President Barack Obama, putting forward an election-year budget manifesto that would blend steep social program cuts with reduced tax rates.
The GOP plan released by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would, if enacted into law, wrestle the deficit to a manageable size in short order, but only by cutting Medicaid, food stamps, Pell Grants and a host of other programs that Obama has promised to protect.
To deal with the influx of retiring baby boomers, the GOP budget reprises a controversial approach to overhauling Medicare that would switch the program — for those under 55 today — from a traditional "fee for service" framework in which the government pays doctor and hospital bills to a voucherlike "premium support" approach in which the government subsidizes purchases of health insurance.
Republicans say the new approach forces competition upon a wasteful health care system, lowering cost increases and giving seniors more options. But Democratic opponents of the idea say the new system — designed by Ryan and liberal Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon — cuts costs too steeply and would provide the elderly with a steadily shrinking menu of options and higher out-of-pocket costs. Starting in 10 years, the plan also calls for gradually raising the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 67.
"If you want to save Medicare and keep it from going bankrupt, you must reform the program, and that's what we intend to do," countered Ryan, R-Wis.
The GOP plan doesn't have a chance of passing into law this year but stands in sharp contrast to the budget released by Obama last month, which relied on tax increases on the wealthy but mostly left alone key benefit programs like Medicare.