Newt Gingrich’s dismissal of the House Republican plan to overhaul Medicare provoked a rebuttal from the proposal’s author, Rep. Paul Ryan, highlighting a split in the party over how hard to push a priority for the House GOP majority.

On Monday, Mr. Ryan (R., Wis.), hit back at Mr. Gingrich’s comments. “With allies like that, who needs the left?” Mr. Ryan said on the Laura Ingraham Show, a radio program.

Mr. Ryan’s plan would turn Medicare into an insurance premium support system for those currently under 55. When beneficiaries become Medicare-eligible, the government would pay private insurers a set amount toward their health policies, rather than paying directly for their health care.

Mr. Gingrich, a GOP presidential contender and former House speaker, called the plan “right-wing social engineering” Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Cautioning against “radical change,” he said seniors should be encouraged to move voluntarily to a new Medicare system.

Mr. Ryan on Monday said of the House GOP plan: “Hardly is that social engineering or radical. What’s radical is kicking the can down the road.”

The dispute comes as lawmakers are sorting through the political ramifications of Mr. Ryan’s plan, which the House approved in April mostly along party lines. A Democratic candidate in a special House election in New York is making a strong showing in a Republican district in part by attacking the Medicare plan. House GOP freshman are asking President Barack Obama to intervene and defuse the tone on Medicare.

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