WASHINGTON (AP) - House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Wednesday that the balanced-budget blueprint he's releasing next week will look a lot like the plan Republicans passed last year.
The Wisconsin Republican said the measure will project a balanced federal budget by the end of a decade and that it'll only take "modest changes" to last year's GOP plan to reach that balance, in part because tax hikes enacted in January make the job easier.
The plan by the GOP vice presidential nominee is expected to lock in cuts to agency budgets, and curb the future growth of benefit programs like food stamps and Medicaid and contain a controversial proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program for seniors younger than 55. Ryan said it'll take relatively small additional spending cuts beyond those proposed last year to demonstrate balance.
"We're making additional modest changes to get to balance," Ryan said.
Ryan also revealed that he's talked to President Barack Obama this week but declined to characterize the conversation.
At issue is the arcane process by which Congress passes a budget. The annual congressional budget is a non-binding document - not sent to the White House - that sets broad policy goals but leaves the implementation to follow-up legislation like a tax reform measure and 12 annual spending bills.
Democrats controlling the Senate, who haven't passed a budget since 2009, also plan to release a budget next week. The plan is expected to call for hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes and use the money to largely protect rapidly-growing benefit programs from budget cuts.
Ryan's previous budget plans have failed to generate balance, in part because Republicans wanted to protect Medicare from budget cuts over the short term. But the task of writing a balanced budget got easier after Obama won more than $600 billion over 10 years from higher tax rates on upper-bracket earners. Ryan said the GOP budget would leave those tax hikes in place.
"We're not going to re-fight that fight," Ryan said. He added that lower-than-expected cost estimates for Medicare are a big help, too.
Most budget observers are skeptical that the House and Senate will be able to reconcile their differences, but Ryan said he's "hopeful" that this Spring's budget debate might generate results where others have failed.
"I think this whole thing will come to a crescendo this summer this summer and we're going to have to talk to each other to get an agreement about how to delay a debt crisis, how to save this country from a fiscal train wreck that's coming," Ryan said. "Our goal and hope here is not to pass a budget and forget about it."