House GOP unites in vote for Ryan plan to cut budget, overhaul Medicare
The House passed the Republicans' 2012 budget Friday on a party-line vote, launching GOP lawmakers into an emerging debate with President Obama that will help to shape the size and role of the federal government for years to come.
Tribune Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — Braced for a possible political backlash, House Republicans charged forward on their plan to slash deficit spending by scaling back Medicaid and overhauling Medicare while cutting taxes, putting the GOP on a collision course with President Obama and Democrats.
All but four Republicans voted Friday to support the 2012 budget resolution crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. No Democrat voted for the plan, which passed on a 235-193 vote.
Republicans maintain the plan will cut $5.8 trillion in spending over the next decade and balance the budget in 2030. It reduces taxes on the top income earners and businesses — from 35 percent to 25 percent — while closing unspecified loopholes and tax exemptions.
The vote came the same day Obama signed a hard-fought spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2011 that averted a government shutdown while cutting $38.5 billion from the government.
Democrats cast the Republican vote as an attempt to dismantle the country's social-safety net even as the rich receive tax cuts.
Republicans know the political risks, especially in swing districts and states, because all recent efforts to drastically restructure benefit programs have bombed with voters.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said House GOP leaders were sending their rank-and-file members to slaughter. "I want to say to my Republican colleagues: Do you realize that your leadership is asking you to cast a vote today to abolish Medicare as we know it?" she asked.
Democrats promised to press Republicans hard on the budget vote, starting in the two-week congressional recess that began Friday and continuing through the 2012 elections.
While certain to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, House approval of Ryan's plan puts Republicans on the record in favor of an approach to deficit reduction markedly different from an outline offered by Obama on Wednesday.
The president advocates raising taxes on wealthiest taxpayers and only minor changes to Medicare and Medicaid. Obama contends that while his plan would only cut spending by $2 trillion over the next 12 years, on balance it would cut the deficit more than the GOP proposal as a result of the tax increases. Obama said his plan would cut borrowing by $4 trillion over 12 years.
The Ryan budget blueprint would cut federal spending on Medicaid, which provides health care for seniors, children and the poor, and begin distributing money by block grant to states.
The plan would do away with Medicare's direct payment for health care for seniors, replacing it with a voucher system in which seniors choose between private insurers. The Congressional Budget Office found that part of the plan, which takes effect in 2022, could nearly double out-of-pocket costs for seniors.
Republicans argued Friday that Americans are willing to accept diminished social programs in return for a firmer fiscal standing.
"They understand in my district: We're broke. If we don't deal with this, we lose the social-safety net," said Rep. Tim Walberg, a Republican from southern Michigan. "I think they're ready."
Polls show a much less certain picture. Americans appear to have a significant appetite for deficit reduction, but their appetites shrink as they wade into details, particularly those involving changes to Medicare.
Republicans emphasized the Ryan budget would not affect current Medicare recipients or people 55 or older.
They argued they had no choice but to restructure the Medicare and Medicaid, whose skyrocketing cost are major drivers of the growing debt.
Four other budget proposals — three offered by Democrats and one from the conservative GOP faction — went down in defeat Friday.
The Ryan resolution will serve as a blueprint for GOP-chaired House committees as they set out writing the actual budget legislation.
Friday's vote bolstered the position of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for the next budget fight: raising the limit on the $14.2 trillion national debt.
Boehner needed the lift after losing scores of Republican votes on Thursday's compromise plan to fund the government through the 2011 budget year, which ends Sept. 30. The struggle over the 2011 budget exposed deep divisions within the GOP, as conservatives demanded deeper cuts than GOP leaders could negotiate.
The four Republicans who dissented from Friday's budget vote were Reps. Ron Paul, R-Texas; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; David McKinley, R-W.V.; and Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
Material from The Associated Press and The New York Times is included in this report.
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