By Mike Lillis - 04/04/11 07:31 PM EDT
House Democrats are "likely" to propose a 2012 budget bill to counter the much-hyped GOP blueprint set for release Tuesday, according to a House Budget Committee aide.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the senior Democrat on the budget panel, is still weighing his options, the staffer emphasized, but is leaning toward offering an alternative to the plan Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will unveil this week.
The aide said Democratic leaders are waiting to gauge the public reaction to Ryan's plan, which would reduce projected federal spending by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, largely by cutting payments to Medicare and Medicaid.
With the Budget Committee slated to mark up the GOP bill this week, Van Hollen won't finalize his decision before next week, the staffer said.
The decision is not without a political component. In the last Congress, Democrats often went after the minority Republicans for criticizing Democratic proposals without offering alternatives of their own. By proposing a separate budget bill, Democrats would avoid similar attacks this year.
President Obama has also offered a 2012 budget blueprint, which would freeze discretionary spending for five years and reduce the deficit by roughly $1 trillion over the next 10. While most Democrats have supported the overall proposal, however, many in the caucus are also wary of a number of individual provisions, including proposed cuts to community block grants and a popular energy- subsidy program for low-income people.
Ryan on Sunday slammed Obama's proposal, arguing that current spending levels need to be slashed, not frozen. Ryan also criticized the absence of entitlement reform in Obama's 2012 budget.
"He does nothing to address the drivers of our debt," Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday." "He's punting on the budget and not doing a thing to prevent a debt crisis."
Ryan's plan tackles deficit spending largely by turning Medicaid into a block grant program and privatizing Medicare for those currently under age 55.
"If we keep kicking the can down the road and keep making more empty promises to people, then we'll have the European kind of pain and austerity," Ryan told Fox.
Democrats have already pounced, accusing GOP leaders of threatening vital healthcare services to seniors – the same charge leveled by Republicans against the Medicare cuts contained in the Democrats' healthcare reform law.
"A budget is about our national priorities and values, not just about dollars and cents," Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Monday in an email. "[T]he Republican budget would end Medicare as we know [it] and puts the interests of oil companies and corporations that ship jobs overseas ahead of our nation’s critical needs and economic future."
Ryan's office did not respond to a request for comment Monday.