When Rep. Paul Ryan revealed his budget "roadmap" in 2010, House Speaker John Boehner, then the Minority Leader in the House, tip-toed quietly away from the cameras. Other Republicans followed his lead, sneaking behind Capitol curtains when asked to comment. Democrats shouted down the plan's austere changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The plan was dead on arrival, analysts said. The GOP would never embrace a plan that would take away Americans' favorite programs, right?
Wrong. Rescued from the shadows, Ryan's controversial roadmap is now the template for the GOP's 2012 budget proposal -- the most controversial and comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. entitlement system proposed by a major party in decades.
The plan would turn Medicare into a voucher system that would cap medical assistance for most seniors at $15,000. It would take the federal reins off Medicaid and turn the low-income health care program into a block grant to states. If it mimics Ryan's other ideas, it would create an option to privatize Social Security and dramatically cut taxes for the rich.
The big picture: Today, most budget experts agree our health care promises are impossible to fulfill in the next few decades. They also agree that Americans would never accept any serious attempt to change them. Paul Ryan is betting that they're right about the first part and wrong about the second.
Take a long look: This graph is the beating heart of Washington's budget debate. It shows the hydra health care monster opening its mouth in mid-century and gobbling up all government revenue within a generation or two.