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House GOP looks ready to shrink US role in Medicare. Is Obama?

House's plan for next round of budget-cutting would revamp the social contract between Medicare recipients and the government. Obama may say on Wednesday how far he'll go on Medicare reform.

By Staff writer / April 12, 2011

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin unveiled the House Republican budget blueprint in Washington on April 5.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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House Republicans' budget plan for fiscal year 2012, slated to be taken up by the full House later this week, aims to roll back nearly half a century of social policy, as well as cut trillions in federal spending. Though it has scant prospect of gaining Senate approval, the plan is nonetheless expected to define partisan fault lines through the 2012 election and beyond.

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On Wednesday, President Obama will lay out a competing idea for how to go about cutting government spending and reducing the record federal deficit. He, too, is expected to address the social contract with Americans via entitlement programs, after mostly ignoring that issue in his 2012 budget proposal earlier this year.

Crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, who is the Budget Committee chairman, the plan would cut $5.8 trillion over the next 10 years, targeting some of America's most popular government programs. He said on April 5 that it's time to end "empty promises to Americans from a government that is going broke."

The House GOP proposal would roll back Obama-era tax increases, defund the health-care reform law passed last year, transform Medicaid (for the poor) into block grants to the states, and replace the defined benefits of Medicare (for seniors) with subsidies for private insurance.

Democrats see the plan as a deliberate bid to dismantle the legislative legacy of the New Deal and Great Society, especially by downgrading the government safety net for the most vulnerable.

"The Republican budget is the same tired formula of extending tax breaks to the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of America – except this time on steroids and dressed up with nice-sounding sweet talk of 'reform,' " said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, before the panel approved the measure on a party-line vote on April 6. "There is nothing courageous about targeting the most vulnerable in our society."

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