The Republican Party has rallied around Paul Ryan's proposal to overhaul the Medicare system in its proposed budget, on the campaign trail and in the party's 2012 platform approved Tuesday, but top House and Senate leaders will not commit to enacting the proposal if the GOP takes control of Congress and the White House next year.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declined to say whether Republicans would have a mandate from voters to enact the Ryan proposal if Mitt Romney defeats President Obama. Rather, the Ohio Republican said he viewed a Romney-Ryan victory as a mandate in four other areas that did not include Ryan's Medicare overhaul: reduce the debt, change the tax code, overhaul the regulatory system and enact a national energy policy.
Instead, Boehner said Ryan's proposal was one plan that would play a role in the broader entitlement debate.
"I'm sure there will be other ideas about how you save Medicare; all of those will be part of the big policy debate we have next year. And it will come next year regardless of who wins the election," he said at a media lunch Monday hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.
In a roundtable with USA TODAY, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also declined to say whether he would bring to the floor a bill to enact Ryan's Medicare proposal if Republicans take control of the Senate.
"If we have a majority, Mitt Romney's in the White House, and I'm setting the agenda, it won't surprise you that my agenda is likely to be Mitt Romney's agenda," McConnell said on how he would take his cues on a Medicare overhaul from the White House.
Romney has not embraced enacting the Ryan Medicare proposal, although he has cheered Ryan's efforts to overhaul entitlement programs. The Romney campaign has also sought to make clear that he would come up with his own proposals, circulating a memo shortly after he tapped Ryan for the ticket that noted "as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit."
The reluctance to run on the proposal is in notable contrast to the support it has enjoyed in Congress. Since the GOP took control of the House in 2011, Republicans have voted twice to approve Ryan's budget blueprint that includes a plan to change Medicare for future retirees from a guaranteed benefit to one where seniors are given a sum of money from the federal government to buy health care from private insurance companies.
All but 10 House Republicans voted for Ryan's budget in March, and all but five Senate Republicans voted for it in May in symbolic votes.
The public remains skeptical of the proposal.
An August NBC/Wall Street Journal poll surveyed the Ryan budget proposal and found just 15% said it was a good idea, 30% said it was a bad idea and 51% had no opinion.
Democrats are using Ryan's Medicare plan in House and Senate races across the country. Republicans brush off concerns that they could be politically vulnerable on Medicare.
"Politically, they've been running against us on Medicare, on Social Security for the last 30 or 40 years, so we're kind of used to it," McConnell said.
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