*Gingrich remarks could undermine Republicans on Medicare
*Ryan says his Medicare plan is not "radical"
By Donna Smith and Ann Saphir
WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Republican rift
over the government health program for older Americans widened
Monday as Congressman Paul Ryan hit back at criticism of his
Medicare overhaul plan from within his own party.
In a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, Ryan said
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was "missing the
mark" on what the proposed cost-cutting revamp does.
Gingrich on Sunday called Ryan's plan "radical," saying
there were other ways to save money for the program that faces
increasing financial strains from rising costs and aging baby
boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964.
"I hardly think it's anything radical," Ryan said. "It's
basically common sense and using solutions that have proven to
work, that have been supported by Democrats and Republicans in
the past, and more importantly, according to the budget
experts, it saves Medicare."
Republicans are facing voter anger over the proposal that
essentially would turn the fee-for-service Medicare into a
program of vouchers that the elderly would use to purchase
subsidized health insurance from private insurers.
Gingrich, who is seeking the Republican nomination for
president, on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday said of the Ryan
plan: "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more
desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don't think
imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very
good way for a free society to operate."
The criticism came as Republicans press for spending cuts
in Medicare and other government programs in exchange for their
support for raising the U.S. credit limit. The United States
effectively reached the legal limits of its borrowing authority
Monday and needs an increase in the $14.3 trillion debt cap
by Aug. 2 in order to keep paying its bills.
Gingrich "has undermined the Republicans at the negotiating
table for the budget," said David Kendall, an analyst with the
Democratic centrist think tank Third Way. "Republican leaders
can no longer present a united front over making major changes
Michael Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said
the comment by Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of
Representatives, "certainly gives a talking point to the
critics" of the Ryan plan.
But he said the public may be ready to accept some changes
to Medicare as part of a deal that reduces the $1.4 trillion
deficit and future debt.
Indeed, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said on CNBC
on Monday that Medicare was on the table in deficit talks.
"I think Medicare's on the table," Pelosi said. "We have to
put it all on the table, see what works."
(Reporting by Donna Smith in Washington, Ann Saphir in
Chicago; Editing by David Lawder)
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