'Entitlements' a target, Ryan says

Posted: December 7, 2017 at 3:41 a.m.
Updated: December 7, 2017 at 3:42 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan poses for a picture with Ridley Brandmayr of Bozeman, Mont., before the lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree Wednesday evening on Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday that congressional Republicans will aim next year to reduce spending on both federal health care and anti-poverty programs, citing the need to reduce America's deficit.

"We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit," Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show. "... 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."

Ryan said he believes he has begun convincing President Donald Trump in their private conversations about the need to rein in Medicare, the federal health program that primarily insures the elderly. As a candidate, Trump vowed not to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

Ryan also suggested congressional Republicans were unlikely to try changing Social Security because the rules of the Senate forbid changes to the program through reconciliation, the procedure the Senate can use to pass legislation with only 50 votes.

"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."

Ryan's remarks add to the growing signs that top Republicans aim to cut government spending next year. Republicans are close to passing a tax bill nonpartisan analysts say would increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion over a decade. Trump recently called on Congress to move to cut welfare spending after the tax bill, and Senate Republicans have cited the need to reduce the national deficit while growing the economy.

"You also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn't the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said last week.

While whipping votes for the tax bill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, attacked "liberal programs" for the poor and said Congress needed to stop wasting Americans' money.

"We're spending ourselves into bankruptcy," Hatch said. "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."

Trump has not clarified which specific programs would be affected by the proposed "welfare reform," though congressional Republicans are signaling that they aim to impose work requirements on food stamps and direct cash assistance for the poor.

"We have a welfare system that's trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work," Ryan told Kaminsky on Wednesday. "We've got to work on that."

Liberals have alleged that the GOP will use higher deficits -- in part caused by their tax bill -- as a pretext to accomplish the long-held conservative policy objective of cutting government health care and social-service spending, which the left believes would hit the poor the hardest.

"What's coming next is all too predictable: The deficit hawks will come flying back after this bill becomes law," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, during a speech on the tax debate. "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."

A Section on 12/07/2017