WASHINGTON — House Republicans will "lead with our chin" and offer politically explosive cost curbs this spring on programs like Medicare, Medicaid and perhaps Social Security, the party's point man for curbing crippling budget deficits said Thursday.
Even then, Rep. Paul Ryan acknowledged, the government's budget still won't balance for quite some time.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the Wisconsin lawmaker and chairman of the House Budget Committee said the House Republicans' budget proposal for fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1, will propose fundamental changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the giant health care programs that cover 100 million Americans and whose combined costs rival the defense budget.
Ryan offered no specifics, saying details are still being hashed out.
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Ryan, 41, a rising figure in the GOP, has been tasked with both schooling the 87 Republican freshmen on the brain-numbing intricacies of the budget and devising a plan to wrestle the deficit under control. Both are big challenges.
"I see a willingness to embrace big things; I see a willingness to tackle the problem," Ryan said, describing the sentiment among Republican freshmen elected on a wave of concern about the growing scope and reach of government.
"When you walk people through just how deep this hole is... it really does leave a lot of jaws dropping," he said.
Endorsing reduced Social Security checks for future seniors or raising the retirement age is viewed by many Republicans as well as Democrats as political suicide without cover from President Obama. And some see the effort as futile when Republicans control only the House and a presidential election just over the horizon.
Ryan, however, said the debate on how to get the government out of its budget mess has moved far beyond the relatively easy spending tweaks here and there.
"What I'm gonna put forward is a serious and honest attempt to fix this country's fiscal problems," he said.
Under the arcane — and decidedly imperfect — congressional budget process, Ryan is directly responsible for writing a sketchy, nonbinding blueprint each year for running the government. The resolution doesn't require the president's signature, but it does set the framework for actual changes to spending or tax policy in follow-up legislation.
Ryan said he'll lay out the policy prescriptions that form the basis for his measure, which he says he'll unveil in April. Even if it's a dead letter in the Senate, the House's budget resolution will put lawmakers on record behind the cuts.