WASHINGTON — House Republicans signaled Thursday that they were backing away from the centerpiece of their budget plan — a proposal to overhaul Medicare — in a decision that underscored both the difficulties and political perils of addressing the nation’s long-term fiscal problems.
While top Republicans insisted that they remained committed to the Medicare initiative, which had become the target of intense attacks by Democrats and liberal groups in recent weeks, the lawmaker who would have to turn the proposal into legislation said he had no plans to do so any time soon.
The lawmaker, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said that while he still supported the party’s Medicare approach, opposition from Democrats made it pointless to proceed.
“I’m not interested in talking about whether the House is going to pass a bill that the Senate shows no interest in,” Camp said in an appearance at the National Press Club. “I’m not interested in laying down more markers. I am interested in solutions.”
Coupled with remarks by other House Republican leaders, his statement suggested that the party’s Medicare proposal had been shelved, even though the party’s lawmakers had taken a risky vote to pass the budget in the House just last month, and in the past two weeks had attempted to sell it to constituents in often-stormy town halls meetings.
Republicans suggested that they would continue to press to rein in the growing costs of Medicare, even if not through the current proposal, which would transform the program into one in which the federal government subsidized the purchase of private health insurance coverage by Americans 65 and older.
Putting aside the proposal would remove one of the biggest points of contention between the parties as they address both the nation’s long-term budget problems and the more immediate need for an agreement on raising the federal debt limit.
The development came as Vice President Joe Biden held a first negotiating session with members of both parties to try to find a deal that would allow Congress to raise the debt ceiling this year.
Republicans are demanding spending cuts and other measures to reduce the budget deficit as the price of support for raising the debt ceiling.
The Republican Medicare plan was never likely to be adopted as part of any deal on the debt limit. But the decision by Republicans to pull back the proposal was a tacit acknowledgment that the politics of entitlement reform remain so volatile that pressing ahead in the face of intense Democratic opposition could cost the party dearly at the polls.