In the wake of reports that House Republicans may abandon efforts to persuade Democrats to overhaul Medicare until after the 2012 elections, House budget committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Thursday he didn't expect a "grand slam" deficit-cutting agreement that would slash entitlements in the near future, but he did hold out hope for a "single or a double" in the form of some spending cuts and reforms.
Back in session after a two-week recess, Congress is making the deficit it's number-one focus. Vice President Joe Biden kicked off a round of bipartisan budget talks Thursday, and Congress faces a looming deadline near the end of summer on whether to raise the debt ceiling, or risk defaulting on US obligations, which both sides say could devastate the global financial markets.
The House recently passed a budget crafted by Ryan, which includes deep spending cuts as well as a controversial plan to convert the current Medicare program into a voucher system that would allow seniors to choose their providers. This Medicare program, as well as Ryan's desire to reform the healthcare plans passed last year, have been met with resistance from Democrats and the administration.
But Ryan seemed to acknowledge Thursday that an agreement between the parties on entitlements, especially health entitlements, may be impossible to achieve before the elections in 2012.
"We really don't like the President's healthcare law; he really likes his healthcare law. Big differences of opinions there," he said. "I don't think you can fundamentally fix this problem unless you fundamentally fix healthcare, and that is where we have a gulf that separates us."
Ryan did, however, sound optimistic that Congress would agree on some cuts in this session, calling them a "down payment" on a larger plan.
"Let's get some down payments on spending. Let's get some down payments on actually cutting spending - discretionary and what we call mandatory spending, and let's get some really good, tough fiscal discipline," he said, "to get this debt under control."
Ryan did sneak in a little dig at President Obama, asserting that his recent budget proposal is doesn't address entitlement reforms.
"The president put out a budget in February that didn't do anything to fix the problem," he said. "We put out a budget to fix the problem, to literally pay off the debt, and then he gave a speech. You can't score speeches. CBO [Congressional Budget Office] - we asked them, we tried, they can't do it."
Several GOP members, meanwhile, faced contentious town halls back in their districts during the Congressional recess, with constituents particularly concerned about Ryan's proposal and how it would affect Medicare.
Ryan, however, said he wasn't fazed by the criticism.
"I talked to dozens of members yesterday who were excited about their town hall meetings, who went and delivered this message to their constituents, who came back energized like I did from these town hall meetings," he said. "The people are ahead of the political class. And I really believe that people, when they see the circumstances, when they understand the situation and the numbers - they are ready to embrace the kind of reforms we're talking about."
Ultimately, the budget committee chairman said, the GOP should set up a plan on which to campaign, and let the end result play out in the upcoming elections.
"We owe our fellow countrymen at least a choice," he said. "I think, ultimately, that choice will be made in 2012."
Fox News Chief Washington Correspondent Jim Angle contributed to this report.