Despite a notable political loss last year, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan on Thursday said he is looking forward to a debate on reforming entitlement programs and believes that it can be a political winner for the GOP.
“I am excited about it,” the Wisconsin Republican said this morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
Ryan said he believes that Republicans feel more confident with the issue after taking it on in the House-passed budget plan last year.
“We had a lot of new people [last year], but they now have a year under their belt doing town hall meetings, going to senior centers, talking about this issue,” Ryan said.
Ryan would not say how the issue would be addressed in the budget plan his panel will draft for fiscal 2013, but entitlement reform is an issue he still vociferously supports. He has sponsored a Medicare reform proposal with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
His fiscal 2012 budget resolution, which was adopted by the Republican-led House last year on a nearly party-line vote, included provisions that would change Medicare to a defined-contribution voucher plan, while Medicaid would shift to a block grant system.
At the time, Democrats railed against the idea and cast the budget as one that would cut benefits for seniors and the poor while continuing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for upper-income earners.
Entitlement reform was a major issue in the special election race last year when Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) beat Republican Jane Corwin. The two were facing off to replace former Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.).
“That race was really a good wake-up call,” Ryan said. “If you are going to just play defense or ignore this, they are going to define us, and they will get away with it and scare seniors. Its a good incentive to get out front.”
Republicans have charged that the Democrats’ election strategy is to just scare seniors with the Ryan budget.
He said the House race to replace appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), which was won by Rep. Mark Amodei (R) in 2011, was an example of how the GOP can win on the issue. Heller moved to the Senate from the House to replace former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).
“Look at Mark Amodei’s race in Nevada, where the last five or six weeks was nothing but this, and he did well,” Ryan said. “It shows that if you get out there and explain and lead and take these issues on and go to people with solutions, you’ll do fine.”
Ryan conceded that the debate over extending the payroll tax cut has taken its toll on Republicans. In December, Democrats managed to paint the GOP as opposed to the tax cut. Ultimately, Republicans agreed to extend the measure without offsetting its cost. The package could be cleared by Congress as soon as Friday.
“I think the payroll tax deal, from a political standpoint, certainly caused damage because it muddled the differences ... which is, I think, what the president loves,” Ryan said.
Ryan noted that the portion of the deal that is not offset was a function of having to compromise to get an agreement — and was not something Republicans wanted.
He said that these are the issues that Americans will decide in the November election.
“The gridlock is as bad as it’s ever been, and we need Americans to break it,” Ryan said
“The stakes of this election could not be higher,” he added.
Ryan advocated for Republicans to offer solutions and not run overly negative campaigns. That way, if they win, they will have a mandate to implement their policies.
“We simply cannot try and win this thing by default and running against all the bad news that contributed to the president’s unpopularity,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.