Doubling down on a controversial campaign issue, the GOP-led House approved a 2013 budget that would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending in a vote that will define the Republican Party this election year and beyond.
Thursday’s 228-191 party-line vote comes as a heated debate is playing out in Congress and the campaign trail, where Mitt Romney has embraced the proposal in sharp contrast to President Obama’s approach to budgeting. No Democrats voted for the measure, but 10 Republicans voted against it – more than last year.
Much like an earlier GOP plan to privatize Social Security several years ago, it is the Republican proposal to change the Medicare that could have a lasting impact on either side of the debate.
Republicans want to create a new system that would give future seniors a fixed stipend to buy health insurance, which they say will help stem federal deficits. Democrats argue the costs of healthcare will simply shift to seniors, requiring them to pay more.
The GOP budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is a do-over of sorts of the one the House approved last year as Republicans in Congress saw their approval ratings slide.
Ryan noted that last year’s proposal may have been considered a bold political and budgetary move, but this year Republicans were set to “take it one step further.”
"We are offering the nation a choice," Ryan said. "We are offering the nation a better way forward."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the minority leader, gave a hint of the campaign ahead by noting the few things she wants people to know about the measure: “Ends the Medicare guarantee, ends the Medicare guarantee, ends the Medicare guarantee,” she said.
Neither the Ryan budget nor the one proposed earlier this year from the White House, which raises taxes on the wealthy to trim deficits, is expected to be approved by this divided Congress, rendering them more campaign manifestos than blueprints for governing.
However, a more immediate threat of government shutdown could emerge with the new fiscal year, Oct. 1, because the House budget sets a lower level of federal spending for domestic programs than was agreed to with the White House.
That agreement was made during last summer’s debt ceiling deal, and neither the White House nor the Democratic-led Senate is likely to go along with the GOP’s new level of cuts -- presenting a standoff that would need to be resolved to keep the government running.
“This budget should be called the road to austerity,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), during the floor debate. “Harsh austerity.”
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) said the GOP budget “seems to value only cruel Darwinism.”
But Republicans stood by the document as one that they believe shows them seriously tackling the country’s deficit problems, which even the Pentagon brass has said is the nation’s greatest national security challenge.
“A plan beats no plan,”said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Ok.)
Freshman Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) made note of the political risk: "It may be a risky election year move, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The House also gave a nod to alternatives – including the first-ever congressional vote on a proposal modeled after the president’s Fiscal Commission headed by former officials Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.
That proposal provided perhaps the most balanced approach to the nation’s fiscal problems by cutting spending and increasing tax revenue as a way to rein in what experts say are alarming levels of debt. It was rejected late Wednesday even with just 38 votes in favor.
In fact, a wide range of alternative budgets are being considered during the two days of voting – including a version of the president’s brought to the floor by Republicans that Democrats called a gimmick. It was shot down 414-0.
The Progressive Caucus presented a proposal that would cut deficits lower than Ryan achieved largely by hiking taxes on individuals and Wall Street transactions. The top individual tax rate would spike to 49% for those earning beyond $1 billion a year, and a 0.5% surtax would be imposed on household wealth above $10 million. A vote was expected Thursday.
Conservatives from the Republican Study Committee wanted budgets to balance more quickly than Ryan proposed, and did so with deeper spending cuts. The RSC budget, also up for a Thursday vote, would balance in 2017.
Original source: House set to approve Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial 2013 budget