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Republicans wavering on Medicare overhaul plan

By Tom Cohen, CNN
  • The House budget proposal will eventually mean seniors pay more for health care
  • Democrats are using the issue to criticize Republicans
  • Tea Party backed Rep. Bachmann says she has concerns

Washington (CNN) -- A leading House conservative on Sunday qualified her support for a Republican budget proposal that would overhaul Medicare, saying she was concerned it could hurt senior citizens.

The comments by Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite from Minnesota, showed the impact of public opposition to the Medicare provision of the budget plan that also calls for deep non-military spending cuts and reforming the tax code to lower rates while eliminating loopholes.

Under the proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the government-run health care system for senior citizens would change to a subsidy program for purchasing private health insurance.

Democrats oppose the Ryan plan, saying it would end Medicare as it exists now and eventually force senior citizens to pay $6,000 a year more in health care costs.

Republicans defend Ryan's proposal as a necessary approach to curtail the skyrocketing costs of Medicare. They note it would maintain the current system for anyone 55 or older.

Bachmann, however, said her support for Ryan's budget proposal included an asterisk for the Medicare provision.

"One position that I'm concerned about is shifting the cost burden to senior citizens," Bachmann said on "Fox News Sunday." "Seniors are saying, 'Look, I'm not in a position to be able to handle that.' I also share that real fear. That's why I put the asterisk out there."

Bachmann called Ryan's proposal one idea of how to address rising Medicare costs and said she was open to other possibilities.

"I think there is a better way than the way that the federal government is currently funding the program," she said. "Various ideas were put out on the table. Even Paul Ryan said he was open to tweaking his position that he has staked out."

The goal is to find the right solution that makes Medicare a viable and affordable program in the long-term, Bachmann said, adding: "How we get there is open to discussion."

Democrats have seized on the public dissatisfaction with Ryan's Medicare provision, criticizing Republicans for what they call draconian proposals that would put the burden of deficit reduction on the elderly, the poor and other vulnerable groups.

"Let's be clear about what the Republican plan does with respect to Medicare. It ends the Medicare guarantee," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Citing figures from the independent Congressional Budget Office, Van Hollen said the net result if the Republicans get their way is "prices go up and the government support goes down, and so seniors are going to be required to eat the whole cost."

On the same program, conservative Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said he plans to support the Ryan plan, including the Medicare provision, which has been approved by the House and is expected to come up for a Senate vote.

"The system we have right now is broken, it's unsustainable," said Barrasso, who is a doctor. "Paul Ryan makes one approach. And there are things that we can do to improve Medicare. We need to do those."

Another Senate conservative, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told the Fox program that while he likes Ryan's Medicare provision, it won't win Senate approval due to Democratic opposition.

"We've got an unsustainable system when it comes to Medicare," Graham said. "What Paul Ryan did, he saved it from what I believe to be a complete failure over time. If you can get a better way to do it, do it."

President Barack Obama proposes further efforts to streamline Medicare to build on reforms included in last year's health care bill that Democrats pushed through Congress. Republicans argue the president's plan, endorsed by many Democrats, fails to adequately address the rising costs of Medicare that make it a major contributor to federal deficits.