WASHINGTON -- The Republican presidential hopefuls differ significantly on whether they’ll offer detailed budget and entitlement reform proposals in the coming months as the campaign heats up. This is a sign that the potential candidates are still grappling with how to adjust to the new political landscape formed by the introduction of Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget last week.
One top aide to a GOP frontrunner said he expects candidates to release detailed plans, signaling that their campaign has plans to do so.
“I think all the serious 2012 candidates will have their own budget proposals,” said the adviser, who did not want his candidate’s name mentioned to avoid previewing their strategy ahead of time.
But a senior adviser to Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour sounded a completely different note.
"I don’t expect that every campaign is going to be able to match anything approaching the depth that Ryan putting into this," the Barbour adviser said. "I don’t think that’s likely at all.”
“The good thing about what Paul Ryan’s doing is he’s leading. It’s a thoughtful plan,” the adviser continued. “It’s healthy that Republicans are out talking about ways to cut spending and bring the deficit under control. We’re not all going to agree on every detail. That’s OK, but we’ve got this thing moving in the right direction. And that’s what’s important. Obama has the country going in the absolute wrong direction.”
Ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was more ambivalent when asked about entitlements, according to Politico. “I don’t know,” Romney said when asked whether the country is prepared for extensive changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security during a meeting with potential donors in New York on Tuesday.
Romney Spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said afterward that the former governor "recognizes that it is absolutely imperative that we take on the rising cost of entitlements," and pointed to a chapter in the politician's book outlining how he proposed to do it.
Within GOP presidential campaigns, there are also signs that the issue of addressing the national debt –- even after Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, released a budget plan praised by most conservatives –- will be a source of fierce debate between advisers.
An aide affiliated with another top-tier hopeful, who has not yet declared his candidacy, said that “further discussions about how we will solve the long-term debt crisis is going to play a big role in the campaign. The extent to which candidates offer real, tangible solutions will determine their success.”
But another consultant to this same politician said 2012 candidates “might be forced to” talk about plans for entitlement reform,” but it “won't be by choice.”
“I think they'll run from them like the plague,” the consultant added.
Ryan pushed the issue of budgets and entitlements to the fore last week by proposing a controversial plan to cut $6 trillion in spending over the next decade. He would move Medicare from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program, and would push Medicaid costs toward the states while giving them more flexibility over how big their programs can be and how they can use federal funds.
Ryan has been credited by conservatives and some moderates for offering a plan, since for years politicians have danced around how to pay for the ballooning cost of government services, which are dear to key constituencies like seniors and the poor. But the plan has also garnered significant criticism from independents and a handful of Republicans, though there is general agreement on the right about how to address the debt problem.
Liberals generally disagree fundamentally with Ryan’s approach, favoring higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations as opposed to Ryan’s restructuring of the system. The Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the Ryan plan found that if health care costs continue on their current runaway trajectory, seniors in Medicare would be forced to pay significantly more of their medical bills.
President Obama’s Wednesday speech addressing the budget, entitlements, and the national debt, which has nearly reached the $14.3 trillion limit currently allowed by law, is seen as a response to Ryan’s plan. The Wisconsin Rep. will respond to Obama’s proposals in a forum on Thursday hosted by E21, a conservative economic group based in Washington headed by conservative columnist Bill Kristol and former George W. Bush administration economic adviser Keith Hennessey.