Democrats are on alert as it looks like the GOP aim to cut government spending next year and have their sights setting on federal health care and anti-poverty programs.
House Speaker Paul Ryan revealed that the focus on entitlement reforms “is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” speaking on Ross Kaminsky’s talk radio show Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “. . . Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements – because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
Despite President Donald Trump’s campaign promises not to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, Ryan said in private conversations with the president he may be convincing him to rein in the Medicare program which insures elderly Americans.
“I think the president is understanding that choice and competition works everywhere in health care, especially in Medicare,” Ryan said. “. . . This has been my big thing for many, many years. I think it’s the biggest entitlement we’ve got to reform.”
With passing a tax bill, Trump’s call for Congress to move on cutting welfare spending and Senate Republicans calling for growing the economy while reducing the national deficit, Ryan’s comments add to the signs that Republicans have a goal of cutting government spending in 2018.
“We’re spending ourselves into bankruptcy,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said according to the Tribune. “Now, let’s just be honest about it: We’re in trouble. This country is in deep debt. You don’t help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don’t help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through.”
“We have a welfare system that’s trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work,” Ryan said Wednesday. “We’ve got to work on that.”
Liberals have already begun their counter attacks, as they contend that entitlement cuts will primarily hurt the poor.
“What’s coming next is all too predictable: The deficit hawks will come flying back after this bill becomes law,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the finance committee, said. “Republicans are already saying ‘entitlement reform’ and ‘welfare reform’ are next up on the docket. But nobody should be fooled – that’s just code for attacks on Medicaid, on Medicare, on Social Security, on anti-hunger programs.”
Republicans as well as Democrats have historically been reluctant to cut benefits, however, and with 2018 midterm elections looming, GOP lawmakers may find it even more challenging to do so. But Ryan believes a focus on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid in addition to Medicare is the way to go for Republicans in the coming year.
“What it is we really need to convert our health care system to a patient-centered system so we have more choices and more competition. Choice and competition brings down prices and improves quality; government-run health care is the opposite of that,” he said.
“So I think these reforms that we’ve been talking about, that we’re still going to keep pushing, that will help not just make Medicaid less expensive,” Ryan said, ” . . . but it will help Medicare as well.”
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