Lost in the frenzy surrounding the Supreme Court health care arguments this week is an important development on Capitol Hill: House Republicans are poised to vote Thursday to drastically transform Medicare and spark another potential government shutdown battle.
The new budget plan by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) faces a floor vote Thursday — it’s a tweaked version of last year’s blueprint that was relentlessly attacked by Democrats for “ending Medicare as we know it” in order to pay for large tax cuts for high-income earners. This year’s blueprint also replaces Medicare with a subsidized insurance exchange, but keeps traditional Medicare alive as a public option among private plans that seniors can buy into.
The plan narrowly cleared the Budget Committee last week. Unlike last year, when the House GOP only lost four votes from within, the new plan’s tamer approach to attacking the deficit is expected to cost more conservative votes. Speaker John Boehner said the budget proves the House is tackling the nation’s toughest challenges.
“We’re gonna lay out our vision for how we get America back on track, how we bring prosperity back to our country, how we save the next generation,” Boehner said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today Show.” “We’ve done our job every year. It’s been over three years since the United States Senate has done a budget. This is totally irresponsible.”
Democrats are salivating at what they see as an opportunity to frame the 2012 election. In preparation for the vote, House Dems’ election shop placed a billboard in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., featuring an elderly man looking concerned, alongside text that reads, “Congressman Ryan: Protecting Millionaires Instead of Medicare.”
The DCCC has also enlisted Martin Sheen — the actor who portrayed President Jed Bartlet in the TV series “The West Wing” — to record a video in which he warned that “the same Republicans in Congress who obstructed Mr. Obama every step on the road back [to recovery] now want to end Medicare.”
Apart from Medicare, the Ryan plan could touch off another battle later this year over how to keep the government funded. It places federal spending levels below what Republicans and Democrats agreed to in last summer’s debt-limit deal — Senate Democrats promise to reject those levels, and unless one side blinks, the government shuts down Oct. 1, less than two months before the election.
The House will also vote late Wednesday and Thursday on alternative budgets — including one backed by House Democrats, and one that mimics the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson recommendations. None is expected to garner a majority, clearing the spotlight for Ryan’s plan, which will remain center stage through Election Day.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.