Are Republicans Backing Away From Medicare Overhaul?

They haven't turned a 180, but lawmakers don't sound quite as excited about Paul Ryan's plan as they once did

Paul Ryan with a plan - AP J Scott Applewhite - banner.jpg

After supporting House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc.) Medicare plan almost unanimously, it sounds like House Republicans are backing away.

We've recently seen Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) clarify that she "put[s] an asterisk by my support" for the plan, saying that "how we get [to Medicare savings] is an open discussion."

And House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said this week that his panel won't do anything more with the plan, Reuters reports:

... Camp said his panel will not advance a Republican proposal to privatize Medicare for future retirees because it stands no chance of getting passed by the Democratic-led Senate. But Camp said the powerful tax-writing committee will act on any compromise reached on a deficit reduction plan. "I'm interested in finding a way forward that will get signed into law," Camp told reporters at an event sponsored by Health Affairs, a health policy journal.

House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, offered his full-throated support after the initial vote, but a week and a half later he told ABC New he's "not wedded" to Medicare voucherization as a final solution:

"Paul Ryan has an idea that's certainly worthy of consideration in terms of how do we -- how do we do this in a more efficient way?" said Boehner, R-Ohio.

"I'm for it," Boehner continued. "It's our idea. Right? It's Paul's idea. Other people have other ideas. I'm not wedded to one single idea, but I think it's -- we have a plan."

Republicans supported Ryan's Medicare almost unanimously, passing it on April 15 in a near-party-line vote. What happened?

For one thing. Republicans heard criticism of the bill during recent town-hall meetings -- Ryan himself was booed (as well as cheered) in his district, and at one event in Racine police had to remove a rowdy opponent of his plan.

But not everyone is backing away from it. The proposal continues to enjoy the backing of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whose spokesman told news outlets this week that Cantor stands by Ryan's entire budget plan.

Republicans have not dropped this plan. Some have simply expressed the possibility of not voucherizing Medicare as a means to cut health care spending -- even if they didn't mention this willingness to entertain other ideas last month, when 235 of the 240 Republican House members voted in favor of Ryan's budget and Medicare plan, which Democrats say would end Medicare as we know it.

The Washington Post reported this week that Ryan's Medicare plan likely won't be included in a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. But that's not quite the same as Republicans suddenly opposing voucherization as a policy.

Ryan's plan may prove unpopular as Democrats continue to point out its less pleasant realities, namely that seniors will have to pay more for their own health care and will no longer be guaranteed coverage. But, for now, it may not be as unpopular as Democrats say: In a recent CBS poll, a plurality supported Ryan's Medicare plan.