Top GOP senator won't rule out Medicare changes

  • Updated: May 29, 2011 - 8:36 PM

WASHINGTON - The top Republican in the Senate said Sunday that the House Medicare plan is "on the table" as President Obama and his GOP rivals wrestle over budget cuts to enact this summer.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on NBC's "Meet The Press" that he supports the controversial plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system in which future beneficiaries -- those 54 and younger -- would get subsidies to buy health insurance rather than have the government directly pay their doctor and hospital bills.

The House plan has come under a sustained assault from Democrats, who charge it would "end Medicare as we know it." Democrats successfully used the charge in winning a House special election in a strongly Republican district in upstate New York last week.

Asked whether he would concede that the Ryan Medicare plan won't be part of any budget deal this year, McConnell said: "No. It's on the table."

McConnell was referring to budget talks led by Vice President Joe Biden and senior lawmakers in both parties over what spending cuts to add to must-pass legislation to raise the national debt ceiling, allowing the government to continue to borrow to fund federal programs and preventing a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. Treasury bonds.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican presidential candidate, said that if he were in the Oval Office, he would sign Ryan's House-passed plan.

"If the only choices were doing nothing, like President Obama is doing, and Paul Ryan's plan, I'd sign it," Pawlenty said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" program.

He also challenged the Obama administration's contention that not raising the debt ceiling would trigger a default. Pawlenty asserted that the consequences of failing to raise the cap might not be as dire as the White House says.

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