House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's last few budget blueprints have landed with a big splash in Washington, lambasted by foes as a dangerous attack on the social safety net and lauded by allies as a courageous plan to right America's fiscal ship.
But despite the commotion he's sown, the Wisconsin Republican isn't backing down from a fight with his next budget, due to be unveiled next week on Tuesday, saying on "Fox News Sunday": "We owe the American people a balanced budget." He added that he's ready to deliver.
Ryan credited the recent "fiscal cliff" - which slashed spending and raised revenue - with at least partially closing the yawning fiscal gap seen in previous years. "We don't have to do huge things to get the balance because of the new baseline" created by the "cliff," said Ryan, adding that "it is fair to say" that those policies pushed by the president have made his job easier.
"We don't want to refight the 'fiscal cliff,'" he said. "That's current law. That's not going to change."
Still, Ryan disagreed starkly with other elements of the president's fiscal record, repeating his frequent admonition to "end the raid of Medicare from Obamacare."
"You have to remember, all of that money that was taken from Medicare was to pay for Obamacare," Ryan said, referencing the $716 billion that the Affordable Care Act slashed from Medicare provider payments to fund the new law. "We say we get rid of Obamacare, we end the raid, and we apply those savings to Medicare to make Medicare more solvent and extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund."
When told by "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace that an Obamacare repeal is probably a non-starter, Ryan replied: "Well, we believe it should. That's the point."
Wallace noted that Ryan's last budget "cut Medicaid by $770 billion, over the next 10 years. You cut $134 billion from food stamps. You cut $166 billion from education, training, and social services," and asked the budget maven whether his prescriptions were too austere.
Ryan asserted that many of the programs he would cut "don't work," adding: "What we propose is to consolidate these programs into flexible grants that go back to the states."
"On food stamps, we basically say, you actually have to qualify for the food stamp programs to get the food stamp benefits," he explained. "And, with respect to Medicaid, we think the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid is reckless. We are pushing people, 20 million people, into a program that's failing...And we want to reform Medicaid by giving states the ability to customize the Medicaid program to meet the unique needs" of their population.
Particularly controversial in Ryan's last few budget blueprints was his proposal to gradually phase out Medicare's guaranteed benefits in favor of a premium support system to subsidize seniors in the private insurance market - a plan derided as "voucher-care" by opponents who have accused Ryan of trying to "end Medicare as we know it."
Ryan took issue with that characterization: "First of all, it's not a voucher. It's premium support. Those are very different. A voucher is you go to your mailbox, you get a check, and you buy something. That's not what we are saying."
"We are saying, let's convert Medicare into a system that works like the one I have as a congressman," he explained. "You have a list of guaranteed coverage options, including traditional Medicare for your future needs. Medicare subsidizes your plan based on who you are, total subsidy for the poor and the sick, less of a subsidy for wealthy seniors.
"Doing it this way, harnessing the power of choice and competition...is the best way to save Medicare for future generations," Ryan said. "The problem is, Medicare is going broke."
Ryan also pushed back against the suggestion that his Medicare proposal hurt Republicans in 2012, noting, "We won the senior vote."
Ryan also repeated his call for "pro-growth tax reform" that lowers rates across the board by eliminating tax expenditures. "That's good for economic growth," he said, "That's good for job creation and hard-working tax payers, by having less loopholes in the tax code."
President Obama has also lobbied Congress to eliminate tax loopholes, but he would apply the new revenue generated to deficit reduction, while Ryan would use those savings to lower rates as part of a revenue-neutral tax reform package.
"Look, we already had a tax increase," Ryan explained. "We think it's unfair to ask hardworking taxpayers to pay more so Washington can spend more."
"Tax reform to us is an economic growth-generating exercise," he said. "Tax reform to the president, so far, seems to be a spending growth exercise."
"So, there is an impasse there," he said.