But even recipients choosing that more traditional option would be subject to the new cost controls Ryan is proposing in the form of caps on the growth of the government's Medicare spending.
Shifting costs, critics say
Critics say the Ryan plan will significantly shift costs to future seniors for their health care. Ryan argues that increased competition will help lower costs, and that the program as it now functions isn't fiscally sustainable.
The long-term reductions in Medicare spending help get the Ryan plan on paper to a balanced budget around the year 2040 (not fast enough for some conservatives in the GOP). But they don't bring dramatic savings in the next decade because the current Medicare system would remain intact for people now 55 and older.
Much of the 10-year savings in the budget plan comes from repealing the new health care law and major cuts in spending on domestic programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, which would be transformed into block grants to states. Ryan also proposes reducing spending on financial aid for college, having federal employees pay more into their pensions, reducing the federal work force through attrition, freezing federal pay through 2015, and eliminating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Ryan budget spends roughly $5 trillion less than the president's budget over 10 years.
Ryan also proposes lower 2013 spending levels than what the two parties agreed to last year in their showdown over the debt ceiling; and he proposes protecting defense spending from the sharp cuts it is now subject to under that agreement.
The Ryan budget does not include a detailed or comprehensive tax overhaul, but it does lay out broad tax changes. Ryan would keep total tax revenues at the same percentage of the overall economy as they represent today (which means less tax revenue than in the president's budget, since the White House wants to raise taxes on wealthier Americans).
Ryan also calls for a shift to fewer and lower tax rates, coupled with an end to unspecified tax deductions and loopholes. There would be two individual tax rates of 10% and 25%, though who those brackets apply to is yet to be determined. The corporate tax rate would be cut from 35% to 25%.
Ryan termed this overall approach on taxes "pro-growth" and part of an "emerging bipartisan consensus," though Democrats said it would mean twinning big tax cuts for wealthier Americans with major cuts in social programs for middle and lower-income Americans.
"If you're Mitt Romney you're going to love this budget, which provides another round of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and does it at the expense of middle class taxpayers and senior citizens," said Maryland's Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on Ryan's House budget committee.
Ryan said his budget was about more than reducing debt and deficits but about offering voters two competing visions of American society and the role of government.
"This isn't just about numbers, about math. This is a cause," he said,
And rather than shy away from a huge debate over entitlements that Democrats believe they can win and many in the political class see as highly risky for the GOP, Ryan said he embraced that fight and suggested he would more than survive it. In a fairly methodical and elaborate budget rollout, complete with campaign-style web videos and a major public relations offensive, Ryan sought to present his budget as an essential and even historic statement about the differences between the two parties going into a defining election.
"Our (presidential) nominee owes it to the country to give people a choice of two futures," Ryan said. "We're helping him to do that."
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