WASHINGTON -- A government shutdown is still possible when the current three-week federal funding bill runs out, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday, but he argued that the consequences would not be as dire as some have warned.
"Shutdown is not a crash -- it sounds worse than it probably is," Ryan said at a breakfast event hosted by Politico, adding that Social Security checks would continue to go out and essential government personnel would continue to work. "The consequences are that non-essential government employees don't go to work. ... The point is this: Do we want to get a grip on government spending or not?"
Although both parties have said they want to avoid a shutdown, House Republicans and Senate Democrats have thus far shown little willingness to compromise. Even after the Senate voted down a House bill that would defund politically vulnerable programs and cut more than $50 billion from the budget for the rest of the fiscal year, House Republicans have said they are committed to deep funding cuts and certain riders. If a final compromise strips riders to block funding for Planned Parenthood and health care reform, some members of the House GOP have vowed to vote against it -- even if that means putting the government on hiatus.
Ryan said he is not sure how the compromise process will play out or of the precise figure House Republicans will demand for cuts in a final bill, but he warned that members of his conference would be willing to block a bill they see as too weak.
Despite the difficulty of getting a House GOP budget plan through the Democrat-controlled Senate, Ryan said Republicans would not move toward the center when drafting a funding bill for the next fiscal year. He said his budget proposal, which will be released by mid-April, will include specific cuts to entitlements and other programs, though the White House would likely veto large-scale cuts.
Ryan acknowledged that plans to change entitlements, which Republicans have said would not impact those 55 or older, rate poorly in public opinion polls and could be politically dangerous. He also admitted that reforms to Social Security would not fix the nation's deficit problem, saying "even though it's not a driver of our debt," changes to the program could demonstrate a commitment to financial austerity.
"Is this a political weapon we are handing our political adversaries? Of course it is," he said. "But there's going to come a time in this country where we're going to have to stop thinking about that and do what we really think is right."
If cuts to Social Security are vetoed, Ryan said, "then we give the country a choice between two futures" in the 2012 election.
The Congressional Research Service has reported that the Social Security Trust Funds could remain solvent for the next 75 years if all earnings were subject to payroll tax. But Ryan said he is not willing to raise taxes -- or allow the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2012 -- to protect Social Security and other entitlements.
"Class warfare ... is contrary to growth," he said. "It might advance equality, but it doesn't advance prosperity."