WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are warning that Speaker Paul Ryan and President-elect Donald Trump are gunning for Medicare – and they are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of an epic political battle over the government’s flagship health program that covers 57 million Americans.

It turns out that Republicans, especially in the Senate, are not spoiling for a fight.

“We are not inclined to lead with our chin,” said No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas. “And right now, we’ve got a lot on our plate.”

Ryan, R-Wis., is the most powerful advocate in Washington for a premium-support approach that would, over time, remake Medicare into a voucher-like program that could force some seniors entering the program to buy health insurance on the open market instead of getting coverage through the traditional open-ended program. Critics say such coverage would take away a Medicare guarantee and give seniors subsidies whose value won’t keep up with inflation.

Medicare covers 48 million seniors and nine million disabled people.

Ryan, just days after the election, said any legislation to replace President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act law would necessarily include cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

“Obamacare rewrote Medicare, rewrote Medicaid, so if you’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, you have to address those issues as well,” Ryan told Fox News. “Those things are part of our plan to replace Obamacare.”

Ryan’s comments set off alarms, as did recent remarks by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. – made before becoming Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services – suggesting that House Republicans are eyeing major Medicare cuts as early as next summer.

“Speaker Ryan has pushed to privatize Medicare for years and the president-elect has nominated a champion of that effort,” said incoming Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York. “The people who are genuinely and rightly scared are millions of American seniors who don’t believe privatization of Medicare will be in their interest.”

Schumer on Friday announced a news conference next week with liberal groups to deliver more than 1 million signatures demanding that Republicans “keep their hands off” Medicare.

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