BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Republicans in the House of Representatives will put forward a budget plan this year that will seek substantial reforms to health benefits for the elderly and make aggressive strides toward reducing deficits, a senior lawmaker said on Friday.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said he wanted his budget plan to offer voters an alternative vision to the "cradle-to-grave welfare state" that he says Democratic President Barack Obama is promoting.
The House Republican budget resolution will contain reforms to Medicare, the healthcare program for Americans 62 and over, such as providing subsidies to help recipients pay for private insurance, based on their wealth and medical needs.
"We haven't written it yet, but we're not backing off on the kinds of reforms we've advocated," Ryan told reporters at a retreat for House Republicans in Baltimore.
Ryan said there was emerging bipartisan support for such "premium support" plans as the best way to save Medicare, which he said was going broke.
The Wisconsin congressman caused an uproar last year by proposing a plan effectively to privatize Medicare by turning the popular $525 billion fee-for-service program into a system of vouchers to be used by recipients to buy private insurance.
The plan was enough to rattle elderly voters and was cited as a key factor in the defeat of a Republican candidate in a normally conservative New York state congressional district last year.
In December, Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden unveiled a new approach to cut Medicare costs through a "premium support" model that allowed seniors to buy insurance through a regulated exchange while retaining Medicare's traditional fee-for-service model. The plan was viewed by critics as a ploy to soften opposition to future reforms.
The Obama administration has steadfastly opposed reforms that would end Medicare for seniors or amount to what it calls "radical privatization" of the program.
Representative Tom Price, who heads the House Republican Policy Committee, said there was a lot of enthusiasm at the Baltimore retreat to tackle fundamental reform of "automatic spending programs" such as Medicare and Social Security.
BUDGET REFORM PLANS
Ryan said his budget plan would aggressively shrink deficits to put U.S. debt on a downward path, adding the United States would be in a situation similar to some debt-stricken European countries in a few years if no action was taken. He did not specify an amount for planned cuts.
"We feel we have an obligation to show the country our plan to pre-empt a debt crisis in this country. What matters most as is that we get the trajectory right," he said.
Despite the controversy raised about the House's last budget plan, Ryan insisted that Americans be offered an alternative as a vision of what the Republicans would accomplish if elected.
"People want to be bolder on the budget. People feel good about our budget experience and the budget we passed, even the Northeasterners, the people from the tough seats, they feel we did the right thing on the budget and they want to keep doing it."
Ryan also said he hoped to reform the budgetary process, which he said was outdated and broken, noting the Senate had not passed a budget resolution in nearly three years.
The House Budget Committee is working on 10 bills to reform the annual budget process, including a provision that would force the two houses of Congress, along with the White House, to work on a joint budget resolution early in the year, for votes later in the year.
In the process in place since 1974, the House and Senate work on separate budget bills and then work out the differences later.
Ryan said the panel would begin to refine some of the proposals in coming weeks, but the process would be halted for the committee's work on the fiscal 2013 budget plan, which will be unveiled in March. The reforms will resume later in the year once the budget plan is passed, he said.
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