WASHINGTON -- Republicans in the U.S. Congress Tuesday adopted a bold but politically risky stance that promises to launch a bitter battle over spending when they unveiled a 2012 budget plan that ultimately would cut benefits in popular government-run healthcare for the elderly and poor.
The proposal aims to achieve nearly $6 trillion in savings over the next decade. Much of the cuts would come in the huge Medicare and Medicaid programs that account for about one-fourth of federal spending.
Republicans are hoping the plan scores big with voters concerned about huge federal budget deficits. But at the same time, some public opinion polls have showed opposition to many of the domestic spending cuts Republicans are offering, which could come back to haunt them in the 2012 congressional and presidential elections.
The plan also comes with some popular tax-cut proposals, including paring top rates for individuals and businesses to 25 percent from 35 percent.
Republicans in the House of Representatives released the proposal on the same day that congressional leaders were meeting President Barack Obama to try to reach a deal on this year's budget and prevent a government shutdown.
Some leading Republicans hope that by offering a robust series of government spending cuts in the budget for the fiscal year starting in October, tea party activists who flooded into Congress after November's elections will be heartened. That in turn, they hope, could take some of the pressure off the 2011 spending-cut fight and lead to a deal later this week.
But the conservative wing of the House Republicans already was clamoring for deeper spending reductions. Its members plan to offer their own fiscal 2012 budget proposal later this week that they claim would balance the budget within a decade, a spokesman told Reuters.
The Republican leadership plan for 2012, unveiled by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, is sure to deepen a battle over government spending with Obama's Democrats as the two sides ramp up to the 2012 election season.
And like the 2011 spending-cut plan that Republicans rammed through the House of Representatives, Ryan's initiative attempts to kill off Obama's landmark healthcare reform law. The Democratic-controlled Senate blocked the first attempt and is expected to do so again.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing the healthcare law would add $210 billion to deficits over the next decade.
"This is a budget that creates economic growth. It is a budget to pay off our national debt. It is a budget to get our fiscal track on the right track," Ryan told reporters.
In rejecting tax increases, Ryan said that would only slow economic growth. But many Democrats argue tax increases on the wealthy and the closing of tax loopholes are necessary for long-term fiscal health.
The Republican budget, which is not likely to gain much traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate, does not effectively deal with another potentially large problem: keeping the Social Security retirement system solvent over the long run.
The proposal instead urges Congress to work on a bipartisan solution to reforming this popular program.
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