GOP Budget Plan Opens Discussion On Entitlements

President Obama presented his plan for reducing the deficit Wednesday. And on the Republican side, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin released a plan last week. Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, tells Renee Montagne what Republicans hope to accomplish with their spending plan.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

As we've been reporting in our program this morning, President Obama presented his plans for reducing the deficit yesterday. And on the Republican side, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin released a long-term plan last week. A couple of key differences involve taxes and Medicare.

For a Republican view, we called Representative Dave Camp of Michigan. He's the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax laws, as well as Medicare and Social Security.

Welcome to the program.

Representative DAVE CAMP (Republican, Michigan): Well, thank you, Renee. Good to be with you.

MONTAGNE: I want to start by playing a clip from the president's speech yesterday.

President BARACK OBAMA: By 2025, the amount of taxes we currently pay will only be enough to finance our health care programs - Medicare and Medicaid - Social Security and the interest we owe on our debt. That's it. Every other national priority education, transportation, even our national security will have to be paid for with borrowed money.

MONTAGNE: That's a pretty shocking view of the future. You know, let's get to Medicare, as the president mentioned. It's an issue politicians haven't dared touch until now. But even with Medicare in the mix of proposed spending cuts, can really - the Republicans are saying they can balance the budget.

Rep. CAMP: Well, I think on the positive side, what you have is both sides talking about the reform of Medicare, recognizing that, really, the promise to Americans on that issue has been a false promise for some time. And I think as our budget, as the Ryan budget, a Republican budget says, this is really an attempt to really put - begin the debate, to begin the discussion. And, look, we're going to look at these issues. This is something that's going to have to have bipartisan support from not only Republicans in the House, but Democrats in the Senate and the president before we could ever reform Medicare.

Because the real issue is: How do we make Medicare sustainable for the long term? Because it isn't now. This is something that many policymakers have known for some time. I'm glad the president acknowledged it. And I'm glad, frankly, that he's making a more serious attempt at a budget. And I think this second approach is at least a beginning of the conversation.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's take another part of that conversation. The president, yesterday, said - and he's said in the past - that the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans should pay more taxes. Here's a brief clip.

Pres. OBAMA: I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more. I don't need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn't need another tax cut.

MONTAGNE: OK. What is wrong with richer people paying more?

Rep. CAMP: Well, I think despite the president's claim that this will only hit families that are fortunate - not really recognizing the sweat and hard work that goes into doing well in America - the reality is is that half of that income is small businesses. And we need those small businesses paying more employees, not paying more on taxes.

So, frankly, higher taxes really aren't the solution. What we really do need, though, is tax reform. And tax reform is not about raising more revenue, but about trying to have a more productive economy and stronger private sector and greater job creation. That's what tax reform could bring us.

And this is something that Senator Baucus is working on. It's something I'm working on in the House Ways and Means committee, as well. We, last week, had a joint roundtable with a joint committee on taxation, on tax issues, and had former Secretary James Baker and former leader Dick Gephardt, Republican and Democrat, come in and really begin to try to tell us some of the lessons learned from the '86 act. Look, it's been 25 years since we've reformed our code. It's time to do it again.

MONTAGNE: And, Congressman Camp, we just have a few seconds, here. But just quickly: We've been reporting that some representatives, some Republicans, are nervous about the plan to change Medicare. In a couple of seconds, do you share that fear?

Rep. CAMP: Well, I think that we have to understand that the promise on Medicare is a false promise, because it's not sustainable. In fact, the president, in his health care law and yesterday, said what they're going to do is reduce, simply, providers. The government will just step in and say you'll be receiving less than you were before.

What we really need to do is, in a bipartisan way, look at how we make that program sustainable over the long haul.

MONTAGNE: Congressman Camp, thanks very much.

Rep. CAMP: Thank you very much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan.�

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