Republicans reconsider targeting Medicare, Medicaid in election year

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Last weekend's Camp David retreat has Republicans rethinking their earlier ambitions to reform safety-net programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, fearing a lack of support heading into midterm election season.

Republican lawmakers are instead likely to pursue a simpler agenda that begins with funding the government for fiscal 2018, reaching an immigration deal and raising the debt limit, according to GOP lawmakers and aides cited by the Wall Street Journal.

As soon as tax reform seemed a given last December, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) expressed his eagerness to trim Medicare, Medicaid and other social support programs such as food stamps.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) noted recently that he doesn't want to pursuing such partisan overhaul in a deeply divided chamber.

After the weekend meetings, President Trump said Republicans would look at whether safety-net changes could attract Democratic support. "Otherwise we'll be holding it for a little bit later," he said.

Republicans hold the Senate 51-49, but the party is at risk of losing one or both chambers in November.

While some partisan bills could pass the Senate, they would likely come at a steep political cost for some members up for re-election and still ultimately fail in the House.

Both bodies will have enough to keep them busy even without divisive debates over Medicare and Medicaid.

Neither party is showing signs of budging on time-stamped issues such as government funding or immigration.

A current stopgap spending program runs out on Jan. 19, while some 800,000 undocumented immigrants will be threatened with deportation in early March if a compromise on the  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals can't be reached. About one-fifth of DACA participants work in healthcare and education, causing potential problems for long-term care providers struggling to retain and recruit workers.