WASHINGTON -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday morning that he hadn't seen the new bipartisan budget deal and that the secretive process used to craft it "stinks," but there's stuff in the bill that should smell good and familiar to him.
One of its most important provisions makes changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, and some of those changes came from the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees Social Security and which Ryan chairs.
"Paul Ryan's staff was involved in crafting the provision for weeks," a Democratic aide told HuffPost. "His staff signed off on the provision, his staff also signed off on other key provisions" related to tax compliance and Medicare.
Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck denied that Ryan's committee staff crafted the disability provision within the context of the legislation, which was negotiated by the White House with party leaders in the House and Senate. The committee had been working on changes to disability benefits earlier this year; Buck acknowledged that Ways and Means staff were aware the disability provision would be included.
"They grabbed off the shelf what we’d been working on for months," Buck said, adding that Ryan supports the provision. "We were aware of that, but not what all was being traded back and forth."
At 52 pages, the disability insurance provision comprises a significant portion of the 144 page bill. It would prevent a 20 percent benefit cut scheduled to kick in next year for SSDI's 11 million beneficiaries by diverting revenue from Social Security's better-known retirement insurance program -- a strategy some Republicans previously said amounted to "raiding" that program's coffers.
The bill is also supposed to save $4 or $5 billion by tightening eligibility requirements for disability benefits, partly by requiring the Social Security Administration to make sure all initial applications include a medical screening.
"Those provisions will likely require workers with disabilities to wait longer to receive their earned benefits and may prevent some from receiving their earned benefits completely," Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, said in a statement that was mostly supportive of the deal.
The deal would also test ways of encouraging disability recipients to rejoin the workforce, which they rarely do. Benefits for people who decide to participate in a pilot project "shall be reduced by $1 for each $2 by which" their earnings exceed their work expenses as related to their disability. Gradual benefit offsets for working disability recipients were a key focus of a hearing Ryan chaired in July. As Ryan explained, the Social Security Administration can terminate disability benefits if a recipient earns too much money.
"Here’s the crux of it: If you make just one dollar more than you’re allowed, you get kicked off the program," Ryan said at the time. "In other words, it’s a lot safer to stay on the sidelines. No surprise then that only one-half of one percent earn enough to get off the program."
Ryan also promised at the time that the benefit cut wouldn't happen.
"No 20 percent cut. Full stop. Not gonna happen," he said.
On Tuesday morning, Ryan criticized the closed-door nature of the budget bill negotiations.
"About the process I can say this: I think the process stinks," he told CNN, adding that he was reserving judgment on the bill itself.
The House is set to vote on Ryan's bid to be its next speaker this week.