* House panel won't advance Medicare plan
* Ryan sees no room for deal until after 2012 election
* Pragmatic tone taken as deficit talks begin
(Recasts with new material)
By Donna Smith and David Morgan
WASHINGTON, May 5 Congressional Republicans on
Thursday backed away from a contentious plan to overhaul
Medicare that President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats have
turned into a weapon against them for next year's elections.
House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman
David Camp said his panel will not advance a Republican
proposal to privatize Medicare for future retirees because it
stands no chance of getting passed by the Democratic-led
Senate. But Camp said the powerful tax-writing committee will
act on any compromise reached on a deficit reduction plan.
"I'm interested in finding a way forward that will get
signed into law," Camp told reporters at an event sponsored by
Health Affairs, a health policy journal.
Camp spoke as Vice President Joe Biden began bipartisan
White House talks on cutting the $1.4 trillion U.S. deficit.
The Medicare plan's author, House Budget Committee Chairman
Paul Ryan, said Republicans hoped to achieve some spending cuts
in negotiations but predicted that any sweeping changes to the
popular health program would not be in play until after 2012.
"We're not under any illusion that we are going to get any
grand slam agreement," Ryan said.
Obama has called Ryan's Medicare proposal "radical," saying
it tries to solve the deficit on the backs of the poor.
Republicans, who control the House, have encountered voter
anger over the proposal, which would phase out traditional
government-run Medicare and replace it for future retirees with
subsidies to purchase health policies from private insurers.
FACING POLITICAL REALITY
Camp and Ryan's comments suggest a new pragmatic tone by
Republicans in budget negotiations taking place as Congress
faces an Aug. 2 deadline for raising the $14.3 trillion U.S.
debt ceiling or risk defaulting on its obligations, an outcome
that could devastate world financial markets.
They are also facing the political reality that the
Medicare plan will not pass the Senate and it has become a
politically potent weapon for Democrats for the 2012
congressional and presidential election campaigns.
Fifty Senate Democrats in a letter to House Republican
Leader Eric Cantor on Thursday voiced strong opposition to the
Republican Medicare plan.
Ryan said in a speech to the American Council for Capital
Formation that Republicans and Democrats were too far apart on
how to slow the growth of Medicare and other government-run
health programs to reach agreement before 2012.
"I think 2012 is going to be the ultimate decider of these
things," he said.
Democrats have started running ads against some Republicans
who backed the House Republican budget plan, which included the
Medicare plan. They contrast Republican opposition to higher
taxes for oil companies with a willingness to overhaul
"GOP now stands for 'Gas and Oil Party' and 'Get Old
People' simultaneously," said House Democratic Representative
Ed Markey, referring to the Republican Party's nickname.
While a sweeping overhaul of Medicare has been set aside,
Camp said it remains on the table. Rapidly rising spending for
U.S. health programs threatens to overwhelm the budget.
"I am not going to take anything off the table," Camp said.
He said Democrats need to come forward with some ideas.
The debt limit has been seen as a Republican lever for
pressuring Obama and Democratic lawmakers into accepting deep
cuts in federal spending.
Tea Party conservatives insist on tough spending controls
even with no quick agreement on Medicare and other social
"There needs to be some lines that kick in, so that ... you
have automatic spending cuts" when spending reaches a certain
level, Republican Representative Allen West, a member of the
House Tea Party Caucus, told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan,
editing by Ross Colvin and Eric Beech)