By Erik Wasson - 04/06/11 12:34 AM EDT
House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a 2012 budget resolution that would cut $5.8 trillion over 10 years and reform entitlements, igniting a new fiscal battle that could make the fight over 2011 spending look like a minor skirmish.
The architect of the budget plan, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), spent much of the day rebutting liberal accusations that his plan hurts the poor and seniors.
The resolution will be marked up in committee on Wednesday and is headed for a floor vote next week.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) announced that his group is preparing an amendment for floor consideration next week that would go further than Ryan’s plan on cuts in order to balance the budget within 10 years.
The pushback from the left to Ryan’s plan was fierce. The White House said the budget goes against American values and argued it preserves tax breaks for the wealthy while reducing social programs for the poor.
“Any plan to reduce our deficit must reflect the American values of fairness and shared sacrifice. Congressman Ryan’s plan fails this test,” spokesman Jay Carney said.
Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, accused Ryan of secretly trying to gut Medicare.
“The Republicans are being dishonest about what they’re up to with this reckless budget,” Levin said. “They are aiming to destroy Medicare for future generations — not save it.”
The National Partnership for Women and Families called the plan a “callous assault on women, children, seniors and everyone who is low-income or is struggling during these tough economic times.”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) piled on, saying in a statement that Ryan was “forcing seniors to clip coupons if they need to see a doctor.”
Ryan replied that Israel and Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for making distorted claims about the GOP plan. He argued that by increasing patient choice in Medicare and state flexibility in Medicaid, Republicans are preserving the programs and will increase access to affordable care.
Addressing conservative concerns, Ryan said the fact he cannot balance the budget before nearly 2040 shows how serious the fiscal problems facing the country are.
“This just shows you how deep a hole our country is in,” he said.
The budget includes major reforms to Medicaid, which would become a block-grant program, and Medicare, which would be altered to include a voucher system. The plan aims to force a bipartisan solution to bolster Social Security’s solvency at a later date.
Ryan explained that he did not propose changes to Social Security in part because the committee believed it would be “too tempting” for Democrats to attack it, and because it would make a bipartisan compromise on the issue harder.
Ryan presented his budget, called “The Path to Prosperity,” as a jobs plan.
Citing a Heritage Foundation study, the budget says it would create nearly 1 million private-sector jobs in 2013 and bring unemployment down to 4 percent by 2015. It also claims to boost income by $1,000 per year per family. Much of the growth comes from bringing the highest individual tax rate and the corporate tax rate down from 35 percent to 25.
Ryan said his party is well-aware of the political risks it is undertaking by proposing to cut entitlements, and he said Republicans believe “we ought to have a social safety net.”
“Look at these new people,” he said, pointing to freshman lawmakers on his panel who joined him at the press conference. “They came here for a cause. … We could all do something else with our lives.”
Ryan said the nation’s debt crisis was caused by unsustainable spending, and is the most predictable crisis in history. He blamed Obama for failing to lead by presenting a budget that doubles the national debt.
While Ryan’s budget has virtually no chance of making it through the Democratic-controlled Senate, Ryan said he believes elements of his proposal could become law before the 2012 election, particularly if they are tied to a bill that would raise the nation‘s debt limit. Congress is expected to take up such legislation within the next six weeks.
“On the debt limit, we think it gives you a great menu of options and policies to pick from,” he said.
Ryan said he hopes the White House takes a sincere look at the plan, which contains elements proposed by Democrats, the president’s fiscal commission and the Government Accountability Office.
President Obama said Tuesday that he looks forward to having a vigorous conversation and negotiation over the 2012 budget once the fight over 2011 spending is resolved.
“Now, we’ll have time to have a long discussion about next year’s budget, as well as the long-term debt and deficit issues, where we’re going to have some very tough negotiations. And there are going to be, I think, very sharply contrasting visions in terms of where we should move the country,” Obama said.
Echoing that sentiment, Ryan made clear in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute that the budget is poised to become the party’s policy platform in the 2012 elections if there is no agreement on tackling the debt by then.