The latest indestructible media meme is that Republicans are in disarray over Paul Ryan's proposed Medicare reform. "Republican rift widens on Medicare," write The Hill's Alexander Bolton and Julian Pecquet today. Their evidence of the ever-widening rift is that Senator Pat Toomey (R, Pa.) introduced a plan (see here and here) to balance the budget, and that plan does not include Ryan's long-term Medicare reform:

The budget plan that will be introduced Tuesday by conservative Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a former House member, is expected to become the leading Senate GOP alternative. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member on the Budget Committee, has suggested he will not offer his own proposal.

Without the cover of Toomey’s plan, many Senate Republicans would feel forced to vote for Ryan’s plan to fend off criticism from the right. Senate Democratic leadership aides say they will seek a vote on Ryan’s plan later this month in a roll call that will trigger at least a few GOP defections.

But, at this afternoon's press conference, Toomey and other conservative senators made it clear that they support both Ryan's plan in the long-term as well as their plan to achieve a balanced budget more quickly.

Solving our fiscal problems "will require broader reforms than what we have in this budget," Toomey said. "Ultimately we need to reform Social Security. We need to reform Medicare. But this budget represents what we see as a necessary first step. It reaches balance. It does so in the forseeable future." Ryan's plan would balance the budget gradually over more than two decades, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Toomey was asked why his budget didn't include Ryan's long-term plan to reform Medicare. "His goal is different than the goal we set for this budget," Toomey said. "His goal is long-term, it's permanent solvency, and he walks through structural reforms that achieve that."

"And if the bill comes to the Senate floor, I expect to vote for Paul Ryan's budget," Toomey continued. Other conservative senators at the press conference indicated they would also vote for the Ryan budget.

"I think most of us here support Paul Ryan's plan," said Senator Jim DeMint (R, S.C.), who emphasized that Ryan's reform doesn't touch Medicare in the 10-year budget window.

"I will vote for any plan that does three things," Senator Marco Rubio (R, Fla.) said. "Number one, that it saves Medicare, number two, that it does so in a way that doesn't hurt economic growth, and number three, that does it in a way that doesn't impact current beneficiaries."

Does Ryan's plan meet those requirements?

"I believe it accomplishes that," Rubio replied. "And I believe there are other ways to accomplish that. And I would encourage everyone in this building who has ideas about how to save Medicare, not impact current beneficiaries, and not hurt economic growth, now's the time to offer your idea."

Ryan himself has expressed openness to significant changes to his proposed Medicare reform, and issued a statement thanking Toomey for producing his budget proposal.

"I'm right there with Senator Rubio," said Senator Ron Johnson (R, Wisc.), who expressed support for "any plan" that properly solves our fiscal problems. Senator Mike Lee (R, Utah), the fifth senator present at the press conference, indicated that he would also vote for Ryan's budget.

These conservative senators have taken a similar approach as members of the House's conservative caucus (the Republican Study Committee) who introduced a plan to balance the budget in less than 10 years but also voted for Ryan's budget.

There has been some dissent among Republican lawmakers from Ryan's budget (but dissent has not been as great as many news reports have indicated). Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for example, has said she'd vote against Ryan's budget. The irony is that Ryan's budget is arguably more moderate than any budget Collins would have to support in order to be consistent with her support for the Senate's proposed constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

All 47 GOP senators have cosponsored an amendment that requires the budget to be balanced within 5 years of ratification. Depending on how long ratification would take, they'd probably need to balance the budget some time in the next 10 years. Toomey's plan achieves balance in 9 years, according to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation (the Congressional Budget Office has not scored Toomey's proposal, a Toomey spokesman tells me). As Jim DeMint said today, the Toomey plan is meant to show that they have a credible plan to meet the requirements of the balanced budget amendment.

Does Senator Collins support Toomey's plan to balance the budget much more quickly than Ryan's plan? A spokesman for the Maine senator has not yet replied to a request for comment.
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