On Election Night, an ecstatic Paul Ryan announced that Donald Trump had “just won a mandate.” A few days later, he casually and somewhat cryptically stated that the mandate Trump won included the passage of Paul Ryan’s plan to transform Medicare into capped premium support. This might come as a surprise to the people in small towns and the Rust Belt who listened to Trump’s promise not to touch retirement programs. But there’s increasing evidence Republicans are serious about this.
Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee, says that Republicans will pass Medicare privatization in a budget reconciliation bill this year. A budget reconciliation bill can be passed with a majority in the Senate, and cannot be filibustered, but it can only make changes to taxes and spending. The GOP is currently planning to use its first reconciliation bill to repeal Obamacare on a time-delayed basis, to avoid having to write an alternative plan. The second bill could privatize Medicare, among other changes.
They may well fail to bring along a majority, since their plan requires persuading Trump and Senate Republicans to go along with it. And there’s a strong chance they won’t, as cutting spending on Medicare — even if the cuts are limited to future beneficiaries — would give Democrats a massive opponent for a counterattack. But Ryan is not the only Republican believing that this is his last chance to drive a stake through the welfare state.