The House passed the Republicans' 2012 budget Friday on a party-line vote, launching GOP lawmakers into an emerging debate with President Obama that vividly defines the parties and will help to shape the size and role of the federal government for years to come.
The budget, engineered by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), would substantially reduce the federal government role in the nation's health safety nets, Medicare and Medicaid, while reducing spending by $5.8 trillion over the next decade.
The 235-193 vote showed a unified Republican conference in the House in stark contrast to the divisions that flared this week during the final battle over the 2011 spending cuts when one-fourth of the GOP majority defected, saying it did not go far enough. Only four Republicans voted against the proposal, while Democrats were unanimous in opposition.
GOP lawmakers appeared confident they could take the thorny policy debate to voters as a necessary strategy to reduce record deficits and shore up the programs, even as outside analysts estimated the next generation of seniors would pay more out of pocket for a revamped Medicare.
Rank-and-file lawmakers seemed unfazed by the potentially difficult public relations campaign ahead. Congress is recessing Friday for two weeks, and many lawmakers planned town-hall meetings to contrast their proposal with the president's vision for deficit reduction.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said he believes he can explain the proposed Medicare changes: "The choice is to have nothing because we're going to bankrupt our country or pay a little more."
The House shot down several alternatives from various flanks, including one from Democrats.
"We're turning the clock back on progress," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. "What the Republican budget does is turn back the clock on a fair deal for the American people."
The Senate, controlled by Democrats, is unlikely to take up the plan any time soon.
The budget debates in the chamber were interrupted several times by a half dozen environmental activists in the House gallery, who were singing a parody of the "Star Spangled Banner" and warning that the planet was "in peril."
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