VP-elect Mike Pence dampens Paul Ryan's call for Medicare overhaul, affirms Trump promises

Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Sunday dampened speculation that Republicans would turn their attention to a major overhaul of the Medicare program for seniors next year after repealing the Affordable Care Act. He insisted that President-elect Donald Trump would honor his campaign commitment to leave Medicare and Social Security unscathed.

In an appearance on the ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Pence indicated that Trump was sticking to his pledge first made in April 2015 to prevent congressional Republicans "from doing a big number" on Social Security and Medicare. Trump at that time insisted that such a move would be unfair to the millions of Americans who regularly pay into the retirement and health care systems assuming that they would receive full benefits when they finally retire.

"We can't do that," Trump said at that time.

RELATED: Obamacare protestors through the years

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WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04: Ryan Burrows, right, protests with others that are not in support of the portions of the Affordable Care Act on which the Supreme Court of the United States was hearing arguments on Wednesday March 04, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Protestors hold placards challenging 'Obamacare' outside of the US Supreme Court on March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court heard a second challenge to US President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The US Supreme Court faces a momentous case Wednesday on the sweeping health insurance reform law that President Barack Obama wants to leave as part of his legacy. The question before the court is whether the seven million people or more who subscribed via the government's website can obtain tax subsidies that make the coverage affordable. A ruling is expected in June. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Protestors hold placards challenging 'Obamacare' outside of the US Supreme Court on March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court faces a momentous case Wednesday on the sweeping health insurance reform law that President Barack Obama wants to leave as part of his legacy. The question before the court is whether the seven million people or more who subscribed via the government's website can obtain tax subsidies that make the coverage affordable. A ruling is expected in June. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators from Doctors for America in support of U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care law, Obamacare, hold signs while marching in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. A U.S. Supreme Court argument over Obamacare's tax subsidies divided the justices along ideological lines, potentially leaving two pivotal justices to decide the law's fate. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Anti-abortion demonstrators hold signs during a Priests for Life protest outside the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Court as the Court hears the oral arguments in the 'Priests for Life v. US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)' case in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2014. The case centers around the HHS mandate in the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, that religious organizations must cover contraceptions and abortion as part of their health insurance benefits, even if that goes against the organization's religious beliefs. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-abortion demonstrators hold signs during a Priests for Life protest outside the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Court as the Court hears the oral arguments in the 'Priests for Life v. US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)' case in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2014. The case centers around the HHS mandate in the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, that religious organizations must cover contraceptions and abortion as part of their health insurance benefits, even if that goes against the organization's religious beliefs. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-abortion demonstrators hold signs during a Priests for Life protest outside the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Court as the Court hears the oral arguments in the 'Priests for Life v. US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)' case in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2014. The case centers around the HHS mandate in the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, that religious organizations must cover contraceptions and abortion as part of their health insurance benefits, even if that goes against the organization's religious beliefs. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-abortion demonstrators hold signs stating they regret their abortions during a Priests for Life protest outside the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Court as the Court hears the oral arguments in the 'Priests for Life v. US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)' case in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2014. The case centers around the HHS mandate in the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, that religious organizations must cover contraceptions and abortion as part of their health insurance benefits, even if that goes against the organization's religious beliefs. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - APRIL 23: Joyce Zaritsky, Bob Williams, Serena Perez and Mayte Canino (L-R) show their support for the Affordable Care Act in front of the office of U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on April 23, 2014 in Doral, Florida. The protesters wanted to ask the politicians if they still want to repeal their constituents health care now that more than 8 million Americans have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A demonstrator in support of U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care law contraception requirement holds up a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A demonstrator in support of U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care law contraception requirement holds up a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators in support of U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care law contraception requirement hold up a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrator Alan Hoyle holds a bible as he stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators in support of U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care law contraception requirement hold up signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care law contraception requirement hold up signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care law contraception requirement hold up signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators in support of U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care law contraception requirement hold a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Hobby Lobby, a family-owned business that says it looks to the Bible for guidance, is seeking a religious exemption from the requirement that employers cover birth control as part of worker-insurance plans. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Deborah Dion (L), Hattie Coleman and other protesters gather in the office of Florida State Rep. Manny Diaz as they protest his stance against the expansion of healthcare coverage on September 20, 2013 in Miami, Florida. As the protest took place, the Republican led House in Washington, D.C. by a 230-189 tally passed a short-term government spending plan that would eliminate all funding for 'Obamacare.' The Florida State government is also working against the Affordable Care Act by refusing to set up its own health care exchanges and they also have highlighted concerns about the navigators, federally funded workers who will help enroll people in health plans. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Anti-abortion protesters pray outside the US Supreme Court on the third day of oral arguements over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. The 26 states challenging the law argue that Obama's Affordable Care Act must be completely repealed if the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance -- known as the 'individual mandate' -- is found to be unconstitutional. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A masked pro-Obamacare demonstrator stands outside the US Supreme Court June 25, 2012, in Washington, DC, as they await the court's ruling on the Healthcare Reform Law. The court announced the decision on healthcare will not happen before June 28. AFP PHOTO/Jim Watson (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/GettyImages)
Anti-abortion protesters pray outside the US Supreme Court on the third day of oral arguements over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. The 26 states challenging the law argue that Affordable Care Act must be completely repealed if the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance -- known as the 'individual mandate' -- is found to be unconstitutional. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES – MARCH 27: Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks during the Tea Party Patriots rally protesting the Affordable Care Act in front of the Supreme Court as the court hears arguments on the health care reform bill on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES – MARCH 27: Tea Party Patriots supporters hold signs protesting the Affordable Care Act in front of the Supreme Court as the court hears arguments on the health care reform bill on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Demonstrators display signs during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri on August 18, 2014. Police fired tear gas in another night of unrest in a Missouri town where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, just hours after President Barack Obama called for calm. AFP PHOTO / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistan protesters from the Jamaat-e-Islami party gather around a protester dressed as US President Barack Obama effigy during a pro-Palestinian demonstration against Israel's military campaign in Gaza, in Karachi on August 17, 2014. Indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians for a long-term truce in Gaza resumed on August 17, 2014, with just over a day left before a temporary ceasefire is set to expire, a Palestinian official said. AFP PHOTO/Rizwan TABASSUM (Photo credit should read RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo via Getty Images)
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Asked today about renewed calls from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (R-GA) and others to privatize Medicare into a voucher-style system, Pence replied that Trump hasn't changed his position and that a Medicare overhaul is not on the table.

"Well, look. I think President-elect Trump made it very clear in the course of the campaign that as president, we're going to keep our promises in Social Security and Medicare," he said.

But Pence indicated that Trump's pledge wouldn't necessarily extend to the Medicaid program for 65 million low-income and disabled Americans. He said that "there's a real opportunity" for major savings by converting Medicaid from an entitlement to block grants to the states – a move that would give state officials far more latitude to set eligibility requirements and impose cost-saving measures.

Pence, the governor of Indiana, touted changes that were made in his own state since the advent of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. For example, Indiana obtained a waiver from the federal government to require beneficiaries to make a monthly contribution to health savings accounts equal to two percent of their income in order to continue to receive full benefits. Other states have initiated reforms including stricter work requirements for able-bodied beneficiaries.

"We want to give states even greater flexibility in innovating and creating the kind of health care solutions that work for their population," he said.

Pence said that Trump and congressional Republicans would make good on their long-standing promise to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act "right out of the gate" after Trump is sworn in as the 45th president January 20. House and Senate GOP leaders are hard at work planning to dismantle Obamacare under arcane budget "reconciliation" rules that will enable the Senate to block a Democratic filibuster and approve the legislation with a simple majority.

The Republican-controlled Congress approved similar legislation last January but it was vetoed by President Obama. With Trump in the White House, the legislation is certain to be enacted within weeks of Trump taking office.

However, Pence was vague on the crucial question of how long it would take the new administration and GOP-controlled Congress to devise a replacement for Obamacare without stripping tens of millions of Americans of their health care coverage. Some senior Republicans in the House and Senate have predicted that it could take as long a two to three years to enact replacement legislation that reflects the GOP's free-market ideas.

RELATED: GOP hopefuls rumored to run in 2020

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Former Republican U.S. presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz speaks to delegates from Texas at a breakfast during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) practices her appearance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) discusses the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump hugs running mate Governor Mike Pence (R) at the conclusion of the final session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Marco Rubio announces the suspension of his presidential campaign during a rally in Miami, Florida March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
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Trump said recently during an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes" program that the repeal and replacement of Obamacare would be done seamlessly and "simultaneously". While that clearly will not be possible, Pence insisted that there would be no change in the president-elect's stated approach

"There will be an orderly transition away from this disastrous policy," Pence said. "But the first thing we have to do is pry the enormous weight of Obamacare off the national economy. We think that will create tremendous economic growth in businesses large and small, and then setting an orderly transition process in place to capture the power of the free market."

"The president-elect has been very clear – we want to give the American people more choices, the ability to buy health insurance across state lines, these health savings accounts, but doing that in a way that doesn't upset the apple cart or create anxiety among Americans about their health care."

Pence's insistence that Medicare reform will not be part of Trump's ambitious legislative agenda heading into the new year, his statement by no means will be the final word on the matter.

Ryan had tenuous relations with Trump throughout the campaign but fully embraced the billionaire businessman after his surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton Nov. 8. The House speaker described the election as a "mandate" to enact sweeping changes, even though Trump trailed Clinton in the popular vote by more than two million.

Last week Ryan told reporters he is determined to pursue major changes in Medicare next year, regardless of warnings from senior Senate Republicans that he and others might be biting off more than they can chew.

RELATED: Trump's official picks for cabinet and administration positions

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Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions

Counselor to the President: Kellyanne Conway

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Veterans Affairs Secretary: David Shulkin

(Photo credit DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Energy secretary: Rick Perry

(Photo credit KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson

 REUTERS/Daniel Kramer

Secretary of Defense: Retired Marine General James Mattis

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Chief of staff: Reince Priebus

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Chief strategist: Steve Bannon

(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Director of the CIA: Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Deputy national security adviser: K.T. McFarland

(Photo by Michael Schwartz/Getty Images)

White House counsel: Donald McGahn

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ambassador to the United Nations: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

(Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Education secretary: Betsy DeVos

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Homeland security secretary: General John Kelly

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Housing and urban development secretary: Ben Carson

(Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Health and human services secretary: Tom Price

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Department of Homeland Security: Retired General John Kelly

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Secretary of agriculture: Sonny Perdue

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
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Ryan contends that reforming Medicare and Medicaid to assure the programs' long-term financial viability must be made part of any move to replace the Affordable Care Act, which has provided health insurance coverage for more than 20 million Americans. For years, Ryan has promoted plans to convert Medicare to a premium-support system in which seniors are provided with fixed amounts of money or vouchers to purchase coverage in the private market.

Ryan included variations of this approach in past GOP budget plans when he was chair of the House Budget Committee, and then this year he highlighted that approach in his "Better Way" proposals for revamping federal health care and insurance programs. The House speaker stresses that his voucher-style approach would not impact current retirees or people nearing the retirement age, but is designed to steer future retirees into less expensive private health insurance.

"We are going to have to do things to preserve and shore up this program," he said Thursday, according to the Washington Post. "The reforms that we've been talking about here ... for many years are reforms that do not affect the benefits for anyone in or near retirement. But for those of us who are in the younger generations, the X generation on down, it won't be there for us if we stay on the current course."

Senate and House Democratic leaders already are bracing for a possible political showdown on Medicare next year, and have warned Ryan and other GOP leaders that they would be courting political disaster if they follow through with their threat. While both parties have sought to cut spending on Medicare in the past to offset the cost of other programs, efforts to make fundamental changes to the system have been met with staunch opposition from Democrats, seniors' advocates such as AARP and liberal activists.

"We say to our Republicans that want to privatize Medicare: Go try it. Make our day," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said last week.

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