* Ryan, McConnell say could compromise on healthcare
* Ryan plan headed for defeat in Senate
(Recasts, adds McConnell comments)
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON, May 22 Top congressional
Republicans said on Sunday they would be open to a compromise
on healthcare costs, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in a
deal to get the United States' debt under control.
Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House of
Representatives Budget Committee, said he would "absolutely" be
willing to negotiate with Democrats, who have hammered his plan
to scale back government-run health plans for the poor and the
With Ryan's plan headed for likely defeat in the
Democratic-controlled Senate, that chamber's top Republican
said it was time for "an adult conversation" on ways to keep
healthcare costs under control.
"Let's just stipulate that nobody is trying to throw
Grandma off the cliff," Senate Republican Leader Mitch
McConnell said on "Fox News Sunday."
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Health reform is a top sticking point as the two sides try
to hash out a budget deal that would give lawmakers political
cover to back an increase in the country's borrowing
And as the 2012 election season gets underway, it is
shaping up to be a top campaign issue as well.
Ryan's proposal to partially privatize the Medicare health
plan for the elderly has already imperiled the presidential
hopes of one Republican, Newt Gingrich, who faced a fierce
conservative backlash last week after he described it as
"right-wing social engineering."
Polls show that Ryan's proposed changes are unpopular with
voters, and McConnell said he is not urging his fellow
Republicans to support it when it comes up for a vote in the
Senate this week.
"We have other budgets that Republicans are pushing,"
McConnell said. "We're not going to be able to coalesce behind
The United States reached its $14.3 trillion debt limit
last week, and the Treasury Department says it can stave off a
default until early August.
Experts say a default would push the country back into
recession and roil markets across the globe.
Republicans and some Democrats say they won't back a
ceiling increase that does not include steps to rein in the
debt load, which has more than doubled over the past decade.
In talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, top lawmakers
have agreed to at least $150 billion in spending cuts, but that
is far short of the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that
outside experts say is needed to stabilize the debt over a
On healthcare, the two sides are separated by a gulf of
trillions of dollars. Ryan's plan would save $2.2 trillion by
scaling back Medicaid, the government-run health plan for the
poor, and repeal President Barack Obama's signature health
reform program, the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Obama, in turn, has proposed saving $480 billion by
accelerating reforms in the program -- a non-starter for
Republicans who insist it must be repealed.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Ryan said compromise
was possible -- reversing an earlier stance that a deal on
healthcare would not be reachable until after the election.
"Of course, absolutely," Ryan said, when asked if he would
be open to negotiation. "Of course we would, this is the
legislative process. But let me be clear: We are the only ones
who have put out a plan."
Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen, a participant
in the Biden talks, said Washington could find savings by
lowering the price the government pays for prescription drugs,
rather than scaling back benefits for patients.
Van Hollen repeated Democrats' contention that any
debt-reduction plan requires higher taxes, saying Republicans'
reluctance to consider them forced Ryan to push his unpopular
cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
"You can't do it with a one-sided, lopsided approach," he
said on "Meet the Press."
McConnell declined to say on Fox whether more tax revenue
would be part of a final deal, but later in the day he
reiterated his firm anti-tax stance.
"There will be no tax increases in connection with raising
the debt ceiling. We're talking about spending reductions," he
said in a prepared statement.
(Editing by Philip Barbara and Eric Beech)