WASHINGTON – The austere House budget drafted by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) that has come to define the Republican Party was approved Thursday on a strict party-line vote, as the GOP argues that a balanced budget should now be Washington’s top goal.
The blueprint is merely a proposal, without the force of law, but its overhaul of the Medicare program and steep reductions to other social safety net spending serves as the GOP’s opening salvo in renewed budget negotiations with President Obama. It was approved, 221 to 207, with no Democrats and 10 GOP defectors, largely conservatives or congressman in swing districts.
Republicans are anxious to reopen the debate over government spending with the White House even though some attribute the party’s setbacks in the November election to the plan from Ryan, the party’s former vice presidential nominee.
Ryan achieved the party’s goal of balancing the budget in 10 years, a promise House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) made to restive conservatives to win their votes on other matters.
To bring revenues and spending into balance by 2024, Ryan relied on deeply reducing federal spending as well as new revenue coming from the New Year’s tax deal that raised income tax rates on the wealthy.
The centerpiece of the GOP plan would turn Medicare into a voucher-like program for the next generation of seniors, those younger than 55. When they become eligible, at age 65, those seniors will be offered a voucher that can be applied either to the purchase of private health insurance or toward the cost of Medicare, though the voucher may not cover all the costs of the policy chosen.
The Ryan budget also cuts Medicaid, the health program for the poor and seniors in nursing homes, as well as food stamps, welfare programs and student loans, while largely preserving money for defense accounts.
While Ryan temporarily counts the tax hikes from the New Year, his plan would ultimately lower top tax income rates from 39.6% to no more than 25%, while closing loopholes and deductions. The top corporate rate would also be dropped to 25%. Ryan believes that lower taxes will spur economic growth and essentially pay for themselves; but critics say the lower rates cannot be achieved without asking middle-income families to give up popular income-tax deductions or else adding to the deficit.
Before approving the Ryan budget, the House dismissed alternative proposals, including one from the Democratic minority that sought to raise taxes on corporations and wealthier Americans, while putting that new revenue toward infrastructure and state jobs, as well as decreasing the deficit. Also rejected was a more conservative budget that would have balanced in four years, as well as proposals from the progressive caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Senate, which has not approved a budget in four years, is set to do so later this week. The blueprint from the Democrats is a similarly partisan document, and passage will put the House, Senate and White House on another collision course as they begin budget talks toward the next deadline, in summer, when Congress will be asked to raise the nation’s debt limit.