Heritage Action Pushes Budget, Medicare Overhaul for GOP Retreat

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Heritage Action for America is known for causing Republican leaders no end of trouble by insisting that the GOP hold the line on spending and even the most popular government programs.

But not this week. The conservative political action group is laying down its policy markers ahead of the GOP’s annual retreat, which starts Wednesday. The group is putting aside its reputation as an anti-establishment agitator and doubling down on budget priorities the party has already widely embraced.

The group will outline its 2016 agenda in a “Congressional Boarding Pass” to be given to Republican lawmakers Tuesday as an encouragement to “get on board” (get it?) with a robust conservative agenda this year.  The two biggest asks in the document are a balanced budget and an overhaul of Medicare through a premium support.

Neither issue is particularly divisive within conservative circles, unlike some of the other positions that Heritage Action has pushed in the past, such as opposition to transportation and education bills. Both Medicare overhaul and a balanced budget received attention in the budget document crafted early last year by the GOP majorities in both chambers.

This year, Heritage wants congressional budgeters to dispense with so-called “gimmicks” and draft a budget plan under the assumption that Republicans win the White House and subsequently dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“While nonbinding and frequently ignored, the budget is an opportunity to put forward a roadmap to reduce the size and scope of the federal government,” the document states. “The budget should balance at lower spending levels, without gimmicks, and without relying on Obamacare’s tax revenues, which will be repealed come 2017.”

The statement is a not-so-subtle knock on last fall’s compromise budget agreement, which raised statutory spending limits for the next fiscal cycle by $30 billion. The budget also includes substantial allocations to at least one oft-lamented “gimmick,” the Overseas Contingency Operations accounts. Theoretically intended to provide flexible spending streams in war scenarios, these funding pots have been used in recent years to fill State and Defense department base budgets with money that is not subject to discretionary caps or offset with savings elsewhere in the budget.

The “Congressional Boarding Pass” also exhorts House and Senate budget drafters to “explicitly reaffirm” the party’s commitment to advancing Medicare “premium support,” a vague term that refers to a large umbrella of specific policy proposals that aim to grow private-sector health coverage. Republicans generally use the term to describe shifting Medicare’s government-run healthcare system to a scheme in which Medicare beneficiaries select private coverage plans and receive a federal contribution to help cover costs.

A number of past Republican Medicare proposals, including one put forward by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) when he chaired the House Budget Committee, tout premium support as deficit-minded reform that will rein in debt growth and bring savings for beneficiaries. Critics say the idea would create a two-tiered healthcare system, where lower-income Medicare recipients are relegated to inadequate health coverage.

GOP leaders in both the House and Senate say they intend to write a budget resolution for fiscal year 2017, even though the 2015 budget agreement gives them the option to skip the budget step and proceed directly to the appropriations process.

Morning Consult