* Ryan to repeat controversial health proposals
* Says had a "frank" lunch discussion with Obama
* No agreement on big ideas, but smaller deal possible
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON, March 10 The Republicans' point
person on fiscal issues in Congress said on Sunday that
compromise with President Barack Obama is possible on taxes and
spending even though his soon-to-be-unveiled budget plan faces
certain rejection from Obama's Democrats.
Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House of
Representatives Budget Committee, acknowledged that Democrats
who control the Senate are likely to defeat his proposal to
repeal Obama's signature healthcare law and other elements of
his plan to balance the budget within 10 years.
But Ryan, whose ideas on taxes and spending gained national
prominence when he was selected as the Republican
vice-presidential candidate last year, said Democrats and
Republicans might be able to agree on less dramatic steps that
would narrow budget deficits in coming years.
"There are things that we can do that don't offend either
party's philosophy, that doesn't require someone to surrender
their principles, that make a good down payment on getting this
debt and deficit under control," Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday."
Ryan had lunch with Obama last week as part of an effort by
the president to reach out to Republican lawmakers to resolve a
fiscal standoff that has slowed economic growth and generated
repeated crises over the past two years.
"This is first time I've ever had a conversation with the
president lasting more than, say two minutes, or a televised
exchange," Ryan said of their meeting.
"We exchanged very different frank and candid views of one
another that were very different. But at least we had this
conversation," he said.
Ryan's budget blueprint, due to be unveiled on Tuesday, will
open the next front in Washington's fiscal battle over how to
tame the growth of the $16.7 trillion federal debt.
It would cut spending by $5 trillion and partially privatize
the Medicare health plan for retirees in order to balance the
budget in 10 years, he said.
Though the plan is likely to win approval in the
Republican-controlled House, it faces steep odds in the
Democratic-controlled Senate, where Senator Patty Murray is
preparing a blueprint that is expected to reduce breaks for
wealthy taxpayers and keep safety-net spending largely
SIMILAR CUTS, DIFFERENT RESULTS
Ryan's plan to balance the budget in 10 years is a dramatic
change from last year's plan, which also envisioned $5 trillion
in cuts but would not have balanced the budget until 2040.
Ryan's budget-balancing efforts are helped by the $620
billion in tax increases on the wealthy that Obama won in a Jan.
1 deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."
But further tax increases are out of the question, he said.
"We already had a tax increase. We think it's unfair to ask
hardworking taxpayers to pay more so Washington can spend more,"
Both Republicans and Democrats want to simplify the tax code
to reduce the tax breaks and loopholes that have proliferated
since the last comprehensive rewrite in 1986.
But they have contrasting goals: Republicans want to use
those savings to lower rates, which they say would boost
economic growth. Obama and other Democrats want to put that
money towards deficit reduction.
Ryan's budget plan also rests on several other approaches
that Democrats have rejected in the past.
It would impose deep cuts on food assistance for the poor
and dramatically scale back federal contributions to the
Medicaid health program for the poor. It would give retirees an
option to stay in the current Medicare health program or use a
subsidy to purchase private coverage, an approach that Democrats
say would weaken the existing program and force seniors to
shoulder more of their own health costs.
Obama is not likely to back those ideas this time around,
either, Ryan acknowledged.
"My guess is he won't," Ryan said. "But are there some
things we can do short of that that gets you closer to balancing
the budget, that delays a debt crisis from hitting this country?
Yes, I think there are."
After four straight years of deficits over $1 trillion, the
nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the fiscal
2013 gap will fall to $845 billion. As the economy improves,
deficits will narrow to around $430 billion by 2015, CBO said,
but they are projected to rise after that, nearing $1 trillion
again by 2023 as the massive "baby boom" generation ages and
draws more retirement and health benefits.