House Republicans are pressing ahead with a slashing plan to try to balance the budget within 10 years, relying on big decreases in health care programs for the middle class and the poor, as well as tax hikes and Medicare cuts engineered by President Barack Obama.
The GOP fiscal plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., promises $5.1 trillion in spending cuts — and unorthodox accounting incorporating the pro-growth effects of deficit cuts — to formulate a budget plan that brings the government's chronically unbalanced books into the black by 2024.
Ryan promises to balance the government's books with wide-ranging cuts to programs such as food stamps and government-paid health care for the poor and working class. It's a nonstarter with Obama but polishes the GOP's supply-side brand heading into midterm elections likely to be determined by the core voters of either party.
The measure should ease through the House budget panel on Wednesday but could face resistance during floor debate next week since it embraces higher spending for agency budgets in 2015, as negotiated between Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., in December. Sixty-two House Republicans opposed the Ryan-Murray pact, and many of them need to come around if its successor is going to pass next week.
The legislation promises to serve more as a political and policy statement by House Republicans than a realistic attempt to engage Obama and Democrats, who control the Senate, in any serious effort to further cut the deficit. Election-year politics are in play, as are entrenched differences over spending and taxes. Senate Democrats already have announced they will not advance a budget this year, but Ryan pitched his budget as a party-defining document outlining where Republicans would take the nation if they return to power.
"It is not just enough for us to be an opposition party," Ryan said. "We need to be a proposition party. We need to be the alternative party. And we need to show the country the right way forward to get this economy growing, to get our budget, our fiscal house in order."
At issue is the arcane congressional budget process, which employs a non-binding measure known as a budget resolution to set forth goals for future taxes, spending and deficits. But follow-up legislation is usually limited to one-year appropriations bills rather than more difficult measures to deal with the government's long-term fiscal challenges, which are fueled by spiraling health care costs and the retirement of the baby boom generation.
Ryan's budget brings back a now-familiar list of spending cuts to promise balance, including $2.1 trillion over 10 years in health care subsidies and coverage under the Affordable Care Act, $732 billion in cuts to Medicaid and other health care programs, and almost $1 trillion in cuts to other benefit programs like food stamps, Pell Grants and farm subsidies.
While repealing the benefits of "Obamacare," Ryan would preserve its tax increases and cuts to providers, including cuts to private insurers under the Medicare Advantage program. Republicans have attacked Democrats for the Medicare cuts used to finance the new health care law.
As in the past, Ryan has steered clear of cuts to Social Security, and he promises steady increases for veterans and restoration of looming defense cuts. But he faces a more challenging task in balancing the budget by decade's end than he did last year because the Congressional Budget Office projects lagging revenues.
Steep cuts to Medicaid, which Ryan proposes to turn into a block grant program managed by the states, could drive millions of people from the program, including seniors in nursing homes and children from low-income households. Ryan's budget also contains sharp cuts to a category including refundable income and child tax credits for the working poor and Supplemental Security Income for the elderly, disabled and very poor.
"This dog-eat-dog budget is nothing short of an assault on Americans struggling to stay afloat economically," said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.