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WASHINGTON — Republicans unveiled a budget-cutting plan Tuesday that would dramatically revamp the twin health care pillars of the Great Society, taking a huge political risk that could reverberate all the way to November 2012 and beyond.

By Alex Wong, Getty Images
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, holds up a copy of the 2012 Republican budget proposal during a news conference on Tuesday.
EnlargeCloseBy Alex Wong, Getty Images
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, holds up a copy of the 2012 Republican budget proposal during a news conference on Tuesday.
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Medicare, the government-run health insurance program covering about 47 million seniors and people with disabilities, would be run by private insurers and would cost beneficiaries more, or offer them less. Medicaid, the federal-state program covering more than 50 million low-income Americans, would be turned over to the states and cut by $750 billion over 10 years, forcing lesser benefits or higher co-payments. Social Security eventually would be cut, too.

NEGOTIATIONS: White House fails to end impasse on budget
GOP: Republican House caucus unveils 2012 budget proposal
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives likely will pass the plan, but it will run into a roadblock in the Democrat-led Senate, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers is seeking a compromise to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years.

As the White House and Congress continue to negotiate over about $33 billion in spending cuts needed to get a deal on a 2011 budget that runs through September, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan delivered the Republicans' plan to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid and cut $6 trillion in spending over the next decade.

"Our goal here is to leave our children and our grandchildren with a debt-free nation," said Ryan, 41, of Wisconsin. "At stake is America."

Ryan and his party are betting that after the 2010 midterm elections — in which Republicans campaigned successfully against big government and excessive spending — Americans are ready to sacrifice to reduce red ink, avoid a potential economic crisis and leave future generations in better financial shape.

However, the proposed changes represent an enormous political gamble for the GOP because they would strike at the heart of popular insurance programs long viewed as backbones of stability for millions of families. Seniors and people with disabilities would have to pay more for the best coverage.

For Democrats — who noted Tuesday that some Republicans attacked President Obama's health care overhaul even though it included much smaller cuts to Medicare than what the GOP is proposing now — the plan outlined by Ryan could be a rallying cry to attract those who count on Medicare and Medicaid.

Most oppose Medicare cuts
Respondents who favored or opposed cutting government spending for Medicare:

Source: USA TODAY/Gallup Poll Jan. 14-16 with a random sample of 516 adults. Margin of sampling error: +/-5 percentage points.
"While we agree with his ultimate goal" of deficit cuts, "we strongly disagree with his approach," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "Any plan to reduce our deficit must reflect the American values of fairness and shared sacrifice. Congressman Ryan's plan fails this test. ... The president believes there is a more balanced way to put America on a path to prosperity."

The plan would turn Medicare, which adds a person to its rolls every eight seconds, into a program that would pay private insurers a set amount of money, with beneficiaries making up any costs the insurers wouldn't cover.

It would turn Medicaid into a block grant to the states. That's the same approach used for welfare in the 1990s, when Republicans worked with President Clinton to change it from a program based on cash aid to one that demanded work. The federal food stamps program would be transformed the same way.

"The gamble by Republicans is that there is a public willing to deal with these issues," said Mickey Edwards, a former member of the House Republican leadership now at the Aspen Institute, a think tank that promotes leadership. "I think it's a risk. But I also do think that more than any other time in my entire lifetime, there is a strong feeling that government has really gone too far into debt, that it has spent too much."

Ryan and fellow Republicans realized the risk when writing their budget. They avoided including a detailed plan for cutting Social Security benefits or raising the retirement age from 67, where it is headed now, choosing instead to create budget rules that would force both parties to fix Social Security eventually.

Medicare and Medicaid costs rise
The combined cost of Medicare and Medicaid is expected to nearly double by 2021. (in billions)

Source: Office of Management and Budget
"We thought that if we put one out there, it would just be too tempting for the Democrats to attack," Ryan told an audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday.

The absence of a Social Security plan didn't stop Democrats from blasting the GOP plan. Even before Ryan released it, they were ready with attacks on its Medicare and Medicaid cuts, as well as its refusal to roll back tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

"We must do everything we can to responsibly reduce our nation's debt and keep our economy on the path to prosperity, but we draw the line at penalizing seniors and children for an economic mess they did not create," said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chairman of Senate Democrats' campaign committee.

Republicans, behind Ryan, drew no such lines. They reason that the nation's $14.3 trillion debt is so damaging that it could cause a market crisis similar to those in Europe. Their prescriptions are every bit as revolutionary as those espoused by Newt Gingrich and his band of Republicans in 1994, when the GOP last seized power. Gingrich said Medicare eventually would "wither on the vine."

Republicans believe that Americans now are ready to take their medicine.

"At least in 2012," Ryan said, "they'll have a real choice."

The political game begins
The Republicans' plan for Medicare got most of the attention Tuesday.

Under the plan, starting in 2022, new beneficiaries would choose a private health plan, and the U.S. government would subsidize the cost. Low-income recipients and those with greater health risks would get extra help. The approach is modeled after Medicare's prescription drug program, passed in 2003.

The size of the challenge that Republicans face in persuading Americans to back their plan can be seen in public opinion polls. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll in January showed that 61% of Americans don't want to cut Medicare.

Other polls this year have shown an even greater antipathy toward Medicare cuts. A CBS poll in March found 76% unwilling to cut the program to reduce the deficit. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found 65% opposed to Social Security or Medicare reductions."



Private insurers? :WTF

That's a huge problem in this country already.
Insurance companies that run for profit, charging big bucks and not giving any product in return.


19,914 Posts
None ? They just take the money and no one is serviced.. at all ?

Take it away, Maestro.
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