House Republicans are marching ahead with an election-year budget promising to balance the government's books with wide-ranging cuts in programs like food stamps and government-paid health care for the poor and working class despite the knowledge that they could be checkmated by Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama's veto pen.
The plan being considered Thursday is a nonbinding framework aimed more at engaging GOP voters than rival Democrats. It paints a picture of what Republicans would try to do if they claim the Senate this fall and the White House in 2016.
Its cuts to popular benefit programs like food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid would be difficult to pass even if Republicans gain control of both the House and Senate in this fall's elections.
At issue is the arcane congressional budget process, which employs a nonbinding 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.
The budget plan from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., revives 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.
Even though it would repeal the Affordable Care Act's benefits, Ryan's plan 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.
The measure also promises deep, probably unrealistic cuts to domestic programs like education, health research and grants to local governments that are funded each year through annual appropriations bills.
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 to promise to balance 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 plan also reprises a failed strategy from last year to cut domestic agency operating budgets and shift the money to the Pentagon after 2015. When Republicans tried that last year, the House was unable to pass the follow-up spending bills implementing the cuts.
Earlier versions of Ryan's plan have passed the House three times since the GOP won control of the chamber following the 2010 midterm elections. This year's version may prove more difficult to pass because it begins to implement cuts to future Medicare beneficiaries. Under the plan, people who enroll in Medicare in 2024 would be given a subsidy — called "premium support" by Republicans, derided as a voucher system by Democrats — with which they would purchase health insurance on the open market.
Republicans say the system is required to prevent the budget from spiraling out of control as more baby boomers retire and the present system collapses. They also say the redesigned Medicare program would offer seniors more choices and curb costs. Critics, however, say the Medicare subsidies won't keep up with inflation and will require sharply higher out-of-pocket costs for future seniors.
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