House panel approves contentious GOP budget plan
WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Republican in the House predicted a deficit-slashing GOP budget plan is on track to pass next week despite clearing the Budget Committee by a razor-thin margin.
"I am confident that we will have the votes," said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
But there's lingering resentment among tea party lawmakers that the bold but contentious blueprint doesn't go far enough, even though it calls for cutting $5.3 trillion from President Barack Obama's budget over the coming decade, including sweeping cuts to federal health care programs and social programs aimed at the poor.
While the measure calls for swiftly bringing the deficit under control, promising to cut it from $1.2 trillion this year to $304 billion by 2015, it fails to project a balanced budget for decades. Two Republicans, Justin Amash of Michigan and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, opposed the measure in a 19-18 vote in the Budget panel.
The GOP plan is nonbinding but calls for repealing Obama's health care law, while transforming Medicare into a system in which the government subsidizes purchases of health insurance on the private market instead of directly paying medical bills.
The Medicare proposal won't be the subject of follow-up legislation under the arcane budget process on Capitol Hill. Nor do Republicans plan to pass a detailed proposal to overhaul the nation's complicated, loophole-ridden tax code this year.
But other elements of the measure are likely to advance this spring — at least in the GOP-dominated House — as parts of a 10-year, $261 billion package of cuts to replace deep, across-the-board spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon and domestic agencies in January. Those cuts were required under last year's budget pact because of the failure of the deficit "supercommittee" last fall.
This spring's substitute cuts are likely to target, among other programs, food stamps, federal employee pensions, farm subsidies and a proposal to require higher-income Medicare beneficiaries to pay higher premiums. There's also a proposal to require higher-income Medicare beneficiaries to pay higher premiums. Some of those ideas have been marched through the House before, only to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But the agriculture and food stamp cuts haven't — and may prove troublesome.
The Senate has no plans for a companion measure.
The budget measure also would force new austerity on an upcoming round of spending bills for domestic agencies without regard to spending limits carefully negotiated with Obama and Senate Democrats last summer.
The GOP plan, drafted by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would use sharp cuts to domestic programs to shrink U.S. deficits to $3.1 trillion over the coming decade, less than half the size of those proposed by Obama last month.
But it does so in ways that would be unprecedented — and unrealistic — by relying on assumptions like cutting transportation outlays from $93 billion this year to just $50 billion in the 2013 budget year starting in October. Its cuts to the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled would total more than $800 billion over the coming decade, which Democrats warned would mean that many frail, elderly people would lose nursing home care.
The main budget document, called a budget resolution, sets the parameters for follow-up legislation on spending and taxes. Even though its broader goals usually are not put into place, it is viewed as a statement of party principles.
Ryan's plan is more of a campaign manifesto than a governing document. It is a dead letter in the Senate and is not even a starting point for a dialogue with Obama. For one thing, it breaks faith with last summer's hard-fought budget pact, seeking to impose new 5 percent cuts on domestic agencies whose operating budgets will be written by the appropriations committees later this year.
"It would be difficult to overstate the radicalism of the domestic cuts proposed by the House budget," acting White House budget director Jeff Zients said. "Over a decade, the resolution would cut over $1 trillion in non-defense spending on top of the reductions the president has already signed into law."
The measure is, however, more generous to the Pentagon, calling for restoring more than half of the nearly $500 billion cut from defense accounts over the coming decade by last year's budget pact. But it fails to address a $300 billion-plus hole in Medicare's budget under an archaic formula for physician reimbursements.