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House GOP Votes Down Clean Debt Limit Increase, Eyes Medicare In Deal

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JOHN BOEHNER
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) holds a news conference to announce the Republican's 'pro-growth job creation agenda' at the U.S. Capitol May 26, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) | Getty

WASHINGTON -- Republicans are using the lopsided outcome of Tuesday's failed debt ceiling vote as a means to push through Medicare reforms.

Not everyone was open to the idea, pushed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), that a plan by Rep. Paul Ryan to privatize the program for future seniors remain "on the table" for debt limit talks. But what was clear from Tuesday night's vote, in which a clean debt ceiling bill went down 318 to 97, was that GOP lawmakers felt emboldened to try to push entitlement reform yet again.

"There's no way to get there without having some examination of the entitlement programs that we have," Freshman Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said. "There's no question that to get the House back in order, we're going to have to do something revolutionary."

Vice President Joe Biden is leading talks with both parties over the debt limit, which was reached on May 16. The Treasury Department estimates the government would begin to default on its loans by August 2 if Congress does not vote to raise the debt limit, a move that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has warned have a "catastrophic economic impact."

Few details have emerged from the bipartisan debt talks, but both parties have laid down certain guidelines for what they want in a final deal. The Republican line, in particular, demands major spending cuts in the short and long term.

McConnell, the leading Republican in the Senate, has said that he would not vote to raise the debt limit unless the accompanying legislation included cuts to Medicare, perhaps based on Ryan's 2012 budget. The Ryan budget proposal, which passed the House and won 40 GOP votes in the Senate, would replace Medicare with a voucher-like system for future seniors that could lead to high costs and

On Sunday, McConnell told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the Ryan budget would be "on the table" for debt ceiling talks.

"We are going to discuss what ought to be done," he said. "I can assure you that to get my vote to raise the debt ceiling, for whatever that is worth... Medicare will be a part of it."

Some House Republicans have echoed McConnell's sentiments, saying they will continue to push for Medicare changes as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

"That's the budget the House has passed, and that's the budget we're going by," said Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.), though he sounded open to other ideas on Medicare. "We're obviously in a place where we want entitlement reform."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, also hedged on whether the Ryan plan should be included in the debt deal to address Medicare, telling HuffPost "Ryan's Medicare plan has nothing to do with my committee. My committee is the committee of waste, fraud and abuse."

"I think that Ryan is critically right in knowing that you have to deal with it," Issa added. "If you got him here and interviewed him, he would say, 'I'm not looking at mine as the only solution, I'm happy to have a discussion about how we reform Medicare, but we have to do it.'"

Others were less certain that Medicare would be a part of the final deal, although they stressed Medicare must be reformed to deal with the deficit.

"We have to address the core issues on Medicare," said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). "Where this happens, nobody knows at the moment."

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), vice chairwoman of the Republican Conference, said she is waiting to "see what they come up with," but that entitlements are likely to be a part of the final deal.

"Everything is on the table," she said. "I think it's important that we keep everything on the table and allow the negotiators to do their work."

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