Instead of running away from Paul Ryan's disastrous budget plan and the Republicans' extremely unpopular proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to double-down in support of Ryan's plan instead. So the Republican's irresponsible hostage taking on raising the debt ceiling continues.
The top Republican in the Senate said Sunday that a controversial House Medicare plan is "on the table" as President Barack 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 is winning a House special 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 allow the government to continue to borrow to fund federal programs and prevent a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. bonds
But McConnell seemed to acknowledge that with a Democrat in the White House, the Ryan plan is effectively dead for now. The measure by the Wisconsin GOP congressman also fell well short in a Senate vote last week.
"I'm personally very comfortable with the way Paul Ryan would structure it," McConnell said. "But we have a Democratic president. We're going to have to negotiate with him on the terms of changing Medicare so we can save Medicare."
And by save it, he means turn it over to the insurance industries. And of course he was still saying that any tax increases were off the table and unnecessary.
Update: Full transcript below the fold.
MR. GREGORY: The problem is huge, and the entitlement program...
SEN. McCONNELL: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: ...is really the heart of it. But I ask the same question, which is, is Medicare the third rail? Look, you said, reportedly, to the speaker of the House John Boehner, "I wouldn't push this Ryan proposal because poetical it's going to hurt the party."
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, I don't know where that quote came from. But the point is, what are we going to do about the problem? We, we know that--what--let's--oh, you want to talk about Medicare? The president says Medicare needs to be on the table, the vice president says Medicare needs to be on the table. Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House, says Medicare needs to be on the table. It is on the table in the discussions related to the debt ceiling. So...
MR. GREGORY: But not in its current form. If it passes...
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, look, we're...
MR. GREGORY: ...as part of the debt ceiling vote...
SEN. McCONNELL: The Democrats...
MR. GREGORY: ...it's got to be different, does it not, than the Ryan plan?
SEN. McCONNELL: As you pointed out from my comments in the lead-in, the Democrats have no plan at all. We had, we had four votes in the Senate this week...
MR. GREGORY: Fair enough. But, leader, my question is if there's going to be a deal on the debt ceiling on Medicare reform...
SEN. McCONNELL: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...would you concede it's got to look a lot different than the Ryan plan?
SEN. McCONNELL: No! I--it's on the table. We're going to discuss what ought to be done. Everybody agrees something ought to be done, except the Democrats in the Senate, who have no plan at all.
MR. GREGORY: But you're not even...
SEN. McCONNELL: We had four...
MR. GREGORY: ...you haven't even said publicly whether you're for the Ryan plan. So you're not behind that version of Medicare reform.
SEN. McCONNELL: I voted for the--I, I voted for the Ryan budget this week.
MR. GREGORY: You didn't whip up your colleagues, though. You didn't try to get additional support.
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, we, we had, we had competing versions in the Senate. Senator Toomey, a Republican senator in the Senate, had a plan. Senator Paul had a plan. The only people who didn't vote for any plan at all--we--by the way, we had a vote on the president's budget, didn't get a single solitary vote. Not a single Democratic senator voted for the president's budget.
MR. GREGORY: Fair--but do you support Ryan's reforms?
SEN. McCONNELL: And the guy, the guy that you're going to have on after me thinks that all we're doing right now is positioning for the 2012 election. What about the country? What about the next generation, not the next election?
MR. GREGORY: I'm just trying to understand where you are particularly on how to change Medicare so...
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, let me tell you.
MR. GREGORY: You're not--you don't believe that the Ryan plan is the basis of where you're going get agreement.
SEN. McCONNELL: I, I voted for the Ryan budget this week.
MR. GREGORY: But do you believe it's really the big--because it failed.
SEN. McCONNELL: What I'm not going to do...
MR. GREGORY: It's not going anywhere.
SEN. McCONNELL: ...is negotiate the deal with you, David, with all due respect. The president of the United States, the only person in America who can sign a bill into law, is at the table through the vice president, and we are discussing a package that will begin to deal with deficit and debt in connection...
MR. GREGORY: But, leader, I'm not asking you to negotiate. I'm just asking you to help in the interest of what I assume you want, which is building some kind of political consensus around reform. Having a discussion publicly on television like this and saying, what are the contours of that that could actually get some Democratic support?
SEN. McCONNELL: Well, this is not the place to do that. The place to do it is in the discussions with the one individual out of 307 million Americans who can sign a bill into law. And those discussions are under way, and I can assure you, David, that to get my vote to raise the debt ceiling, for whatever that's worth, my one vote, Medicare will be a part of it. The details of that are yet to be negotiated with the guy who can sign something into law.
MR. GREGORY: But do you have to keep the basis of the Medicare program in place? Is that your view? Because that's not what Ryan is proposing. And then you could do other things.
SEN. McCONNELL: And no matter how many times you ask me to, to kind of craft what the Medicare fix should be like, I'm not going to give that answer to you today because that's a subject to be negotiated with the president of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: But do you understand that the currents here in the Republican Party--when Newt Gingrich was on this program and called Ryan's plan right-wing social engineering, conservatives flocked to his aid and said, "No, no, the Ryan plan is a litmus test for conservatives in America." What you're saying is not that. You voted for it, but you didn't rally your colleagues behind it and it failed. So there seems to be a split in the party about what it is should constitute actual reform.
SEN. McCONNELL: Actually, there's very little split in the party at all. We all know Medicare's going to change. It's got to change. David, the trustees of Medicare and Social Security, who are appointed by the president of the United States, that includes some members of his own Cabinet, just said a couple of weeks ago that Medicare's going broke. The one thing we know we can't do is nothing. And our Democratic friends in the Senate have no plan at all. The president, to his credit, is at the table discussing with us the way in which you save Medicare. Medicare is going down. Doing nothing is not a plan. And we're going to negotiate the contours of the plan in these negotiations. I'm personally very comfortable with the way Paul Ryan would structure it in the out years. But we have a Democratic president. We're going to have to negotiate with him on the terms of changing Medicare so we can save Medicare.
MR. GREGORY: Are you confident that the debt ceiling will ultimately be raised?
SEN. McCONNELL: I'm confident that unless we do something really significant about debt and deficit, it's not going to be raised. It's not going to get my vote unless we deal with the problem raised by the request of the president to raise the debt ceiling. In other words...
MR. GREGORY: Does Medicare--is it...
SEN. McCONNELL: This is, this is an opportunity.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. McCONNELL: You know, rather than play scare tactics about what if and, you know, what if you do this or what if you do that, the point is use this opportunity to come together on a bipartisan basis like Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did in 1983 to save Social Security for another generation. They came together, made an important adjustment--and, by the way, the--you know, all this talk about next year's election, after participating in raising the age limit for Social Security, Reagan the next year carried 49 out of 50 states. Anything we agree to do together, David, will not be an issue in next year's election. But this is about the future of the country.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
SEN. McCONNELL: Not about the election a year and a half from now.