Republicans plan to revisit Medicare reform to cut spending
BY LISA MASCARO, and MICHAEL A. MEMOLI, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- As spending cuts start to slice the federal budget, Republicans are launching a new phase in their austerity campaign -- resurrecting the party's cost-cutting plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-like system for future seniors.
Despite public uncertainty about the $85 billion in sequester cuts, Republicans now believe they have momentum to ask Americans to make tough choices on Medicare, as rising health-care costs combine with an aging population to form a growing part of future deficits.
That effort will form the backdrop as the White House and congressional Republicans enter their next round in the budget wars -- keeping the government funded through Sept. 30. Unless they make a deal by March 27, the government could run out of money and be forced to shut down.
Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee, is preparing a budget that aims to balance revenues and spending in 10 years. But his effort has run afoul of the Republican vow not to change Medicare -- the federal health-care program for seniors and the disabled -- for those now 55 or older.
Medicare eligibility currently begins at age 65. Ryan's approach would transform the benefits program into one that would provide a fixed amount of money in a voucher that seniors could apply to the cost of buying private health insurance or traditional Medicare.
Throughout last year's presidential campaign, the GOP promised not to change Medicare for today's seniors -- only the next generation. But Republicans familiar with the number-crunching in Ryan's budget committee say balancing the budget may not be possible unless the changes start for those who are now 56.
Critics say Ryan's plan would shift health-care costs from the government to seniors. Democrats who criticized Ryan's plan during the 2012 campaign say voters rejected it when they re-elected President Barack Obama.