Dems: Ryan budget plan would drive seniors "to the poorhouse"

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, delivers remarks while responding to the House Republican's unveiling of their 'Pledge to America' outside of the Democratic National Committee headquarters September 23, 2010 in Washington, DC.
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DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
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Two days after Rep. Paul Ryan released his 2013 budget proposal, Democrats are launching a coordinated effort to criticize the plan, decrying it as a Republican attempt to line the pockets of wealthy Americans while driving seniors "to the poorhouse."

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and chair of the House budget committee, unveiled the plan Tuesday to accolades from many congressional Republicans, as well as presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday he is confident he will have enough votes for the measure to win approval when it comes up for a vote in the House of Representatives next week.

The measure is unlikely to pass the Senate, controlled by Democrats, and has little chance of becoming law. It does, however, set up an ideological battle between the left and the right over budget priorities as the 2012 election nears.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat who heads the party's national committee, hammered Ryan for insisting on "deep and dire cuts" to Medicare and Social Security at the expense of senior citizens, who she argued would be "gravely impacted" by the proposal.

She argued that the plan, which starting in 2023 would give seniors voucher-like subsidies to purchase either private insurance or a traditional government-run Medicare-like program, would "pull the rug out from under the most vulnerable" Americans.

"We reject the idea that the way to deal with rising health care costs is to give seniors a voucher," Wasserman Schultz said in a press call with reporters.

Democrats are also hammering the Ryan plan for including a series of tax breaks they say favor the wealthy -- among which include bringing down the corporate tax rate, eliminating most taxes on overseas profits, and ending the alternative minimum tax. The plan would also overhaul the tax code to create just two tax brackets, 10 percent and 25 percent.

Rep. Ted Deutch, also a Florida Democrat, argued that the plan places the burden of cuts to Medicare solely on the middle-class and the elderly - and that not "a single word" in the proposal makes similar demands of the wealthy.

"People who rely on Medicare will face a terrible choice," Deutch told reporters. "Pay more or get less." The Republican plan, he argued, would "send seniors back to the poorhouse."

He contended that while Medicare and Social Security "may have slight structural deficiencies," the Affordable Care Act - Mr. Obama's landmark health care overhaul - had distinctly improved Medicare's financial situation.

"Medicare's finances are the strongest they've been in years thanks to the Affordable Care Act and Social Security is fully solvent for the next quarter of a century," he said.

Deutch and Wasserman Schultz were also quick to tie the plan to Mitt Romney, dubbing it the "Ryan-Romney" budget plan.

"We may as well call the Republican budget the Ryan-Romney budget plan for all the things they have in common," Deutch said, adding that he thought it was "one of the worst proposals for Floridians and the middle-class that we've ever seen."

Ryan has said his proposal would save and strengthen Medicare and balance the budget by 2040.

Romney told CBS News earlier this week that he applauds Ryan and his House colleagues "for taking a bold step toward putting our nation back on the track to fiscal sanity and robust economic growth." The plan, he said, will "strengthen Medicare for generations to come" and shares Romney's goals of cutting taxes, reforming the tax code, reducing spending and tackling the debt.

Deutch pointed out that Romney, who recently turned 65, had not applied to Medicare. But, he said, just because Romney doesn't need it doesn't mean he should be able to "take it away" from retirees.

"They believe that seniors should just be left to figure it out for themselves," Wasserman Schultz said. "We believe there's a better way."