Some Republicans Waver On Ryan's Budget Plan

Many Republicans were praising Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan when he announced it last week. But now, some GOP lawmakers are not sure if they really want to commit to fundamentally changing Medicare and Medicaid.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

As we've heard, the president used the Republican budget plan as a foil. He did not just promote his ideas, he also contrasted them with the plan of Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan.

Many Republicans praised Ryan's plan when he announced it last week. But some are not sure if they really want to commit to fundamentally changing Medicare and Medicaid.

NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook joins us now.

Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What exactly is it that some Republicans don't like?

SEABROOK: Well, one of the main ways the Ryan budget saves money over the coming decades is by shifting the Medicare into a private program with commercial insurance companies - in essence, ending the Medicare program as we know it today, as Mara was just talking about. That's OK with a lot of the far-right social conservatives and Tea Party-backed Republicans. But for those middle-of-the-road people, the moderate Republicans, and especially, Steve, the ones in districts with a lot of seniors, they are unhappy about this.

In fact, remember, Steve, way back in the last Congressional campaign, you know, like six or seven months ago?

INSKEEP: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Many of those Republicans were running campaign ads attacking Democrats for cutting Medicare because of how the program is reorganized under Obama's health care plan. So those Republicans, in their eyes, are going to slash Medicare after against Democrats for slashing Medicare. They don't like it.

INSKEEP: Is this partly a function of polls that have come out since Ryan announced his plan?

SEABROOK: Absolutely. There are polls that show that the majority of Americans like Medicare. In fact, most Republicans like Medicare, and they don't want to even tinker with it around the edges. They would like it just to stay the way it is, and that's making this whole plan a lot harder to swallow.

INSKEEP: How do Republicans like having Paul Ryan as, effectively, their leader on this very important issue?

SEABROOK: Well, let me tell you a little story about Paul Ryan, Steve. A lot of Republicans are really, really angry with him right now. It has to do with a vote he made about a month ago that kept an anti-union bill from passing. It was about federal construction sites, and Ryan's vote is the one that made this fail.

Later, a reporter asked Ryan: Why did you vote for the unions? And he said oh, no, no. That was a mistake. I didn't mean to make that vote. And it looks a lot like duck and cover to those other Republicans who voted for it, the ones in states like Michigan and Wisconsin where all the union upset is.

And then the Tea Party is angry at Ryan and the Republican leadership for letting the anti-union bill just die. They're looking like what they call RINOs, Republicans In Name Only, and a lot of Republicans are getting attacked on this.

INSKEEP: And, of course, none of that has to do very much with the deficit, but it's a reminder that politics is a personal business, as well as a policy business. Will Republicans have the votes to pass Paul Ryan's plan?

SEABROOK: Well, it has to do with that. I mean, a lot of those Republicans are asking themselves: Are we going to follow this guy off the plank for a bill that would cut Medicare, upset a lot of Americans after he ducks and covers from a vote he made? It really is personal, Steve. I mean, it comes down to that and the fact that this is such an unpopular idea.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask one other question, Andrea Seabrook. Charlie Cook, the noted political analyst, was one of the first who said that Democrats looked like they were going to face trouble in 2010. He said that more than a year in advance, I believe. And now he is questioning the early signs for Republicans in 2012. He even uses the phrase death wish in a recent column. He asks if they have a death wish. How much are the politicians thinking about next year's election in all of their maneuvering now?

SEABROOK: A lot. Steve, I've never seen Republicans act so much like Democrats. I mean, they're fractioned. They voted for leaders who are the old institution after an anti-institutional wave. They're just in disarray right now. They're still in disarray at the same time that they're pretending they've got it all together, and they're in serious negotiations with the president.

INSKEEP: Andrea, thanks very much.

SEABROOK: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

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