Tom Price hopes to reform Social Security in House budget

WASHINGTON -- Roswell Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Price intends to tackle big-ticket entitlement programs as the new chairman of the House Budget Committee -- including Social Security.

In a speech at the Heritage Action for America "Conservative Policy Summit" on Monday, Price said he was excited to work with a GOP-led Senate to end the "muddled mess" of the last few years.

Under his predecessor, Paul Ryan, the House Budget included controversial changes to Medicare and Medicaid, but did not touch Social Security. Price hopes to change that this year:

"On the issue of Social Security, it has indeed been the third rail as Tim [Chapman, COO for Heritage Action] mentioned, and what I’m hopeful is what the Budget Committee will be able do is to is begin to normalize the discussion and debate about Social Security. This is a program that right now on its current course will not be able to provide 75 or 80 percent of the benefits that individuals have paid into in a relatively short period of time. That’s not a responsible position to say, 'You don’t need to do anything to do it.'

"So all the kinds of things you know about – whether it’s means testing, whether it’s increasing the age of eligibility. The kind of choices -- whether it's providing much greater choices for individuals to voluntarily select the kind of manner in which they believe they ought to be able to invest their working dollars as they go through their lifetime. All those things ought to be on the table and discussed."

Price consistently framed entitlement changes as Republican desires to "save, secure and strengthen" the programs, given their rising costs that are a big driver of future deficit projections. Price pointed out that the Social Security disability program is scheduled to run out of cash next year.

He said Republicans should not fear the politics of such changes -- pointing out that the Romney-Ryan ticket won seniors in 2012, despite Democrats' "Mediscare" tactics around the Ryan proposal for a voucher-like premium support program for Medicare.

Price also pressed the case for a full replacement bill for Obamacare. His own bill has gone nowhere in the past few years, as Republicans were unable to reach a consensus on a health care plan.

Price said there is some urgency here: If the Supreme Court in June rules that the administration can't hand out subsidies to states that do not have their own health insurance exchanges, "that unravels Obamacare rather quickly. That's a good thing. But it's not a good thing to not have any replacement."

Price also sought to temper expectations of huge conservative victories. Budget reconciliation -- a process to avoid a filibuster in the Senate -- is not a "silver bullet" Price said, implying that it might not be the tool to repeal Obamacare.

He also talked about how the debt ceiling "provides focus on this issue," but did not talk of an epic clash around the deadline, expected sometime this summer.

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