Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, urged President Obama in a closed meeting Wednesday to stop “demagoguing” Mr. Ryan's Medicare reform plan, as Republican lawmakers challenged the president without success to put forward his own detailed plan to curb entitlement spending.
After the meeting at the White House, Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, told reporters that he tried to explain his proposal to the president “so in the future he won't mischaracterize it.” Democrats believe they have hit on a campaign issue by warning voters that Mr. Ryan's plan would end Medicare.
“My plan's been misdescribed by the president and others,” Mr. Ryan said. “I said [to Mr. Obama] that we've got to take on this debt [crisis]. If we try to demagogue each other's attempts to do that, then we're not applying the kind of political leadership we need.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president has not mischaracterized Mr. Ryan's proposal and won't stop calling it a voucher plan.
“We don't think that's a matter of demagoguery,” Mr. Carney said. “We think the facts in this case are on our side.”
He said “people around the country have reacted poorly to the Republican proposal” because it would gut Medicare “in part in order to fund tax cuts for wealthy Americans.”
Under Mr. Ryan's proposal, the government no longer would directly pay for seniors' health care expenses as Medicare has since the 1960s, shifting more of the rising medical costs from the government to the program's recipients.
Democrats have seized on the Ryan plan in campaign attack ads, one of which shows a man resembling Mr. Ryan pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff. They believe the issue was responsible for the victory of Democrat Kathy Hochul in a three-way special election last week in a traditionally Republican congressional district in western New York.
The White House meeting was part of continuing negotiations between the administration and lawmakers to cut spending while approving an increase in the nation's debt limit. The House on Tuesday night defeated a proposal to raise the debt ceiling without including corresponding spending cuts.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said lawmakers told Mr. Obama that spending cuts “should exceed the increase in the debt limit.” That would mean cutting more than $2.4 trillion in spending.
Several lawmakers called the discussion with the president “candid” and “frank” and Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, called it “frosty.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, said the meeting didn't break any new ground.
“We really didn't hear anything new from the president,” she said. “The president stated that he would not be putting forth his own Medicare plan. He was asked specifically, probably three times, if he'd be putting his own plan forth, specifically one that could be scored by the Congressional Budget Office.”
Mr. Carney said “we do not need another proposal out there” and that the president outlined a “pretty extensive” plan for Medicare in a speech in April.
In that address, Mr. Obama called for preserving Medicare and Medicaid essentially in their current form while saving $500 billion over 12 years through purported efficiencies.
The meeting was held on the same day that the payroll company ADP reported sluggish job growth in May.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said the president “admitted the fact that private job sector creation is not enough.”
“The discussion really focused on the philosophical difference on whether Washington should continue to pump money into the economy or we should provide an incentive for entrepreneurs and small businesses to grow,” Mr. Cantor said.
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Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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