By Russell Berman - 03/20/12 03:02 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday predicted “a strong vote of support” for the House Republican budget, defending it against attacks from Democrats and resistance from conservatives who wanted deeper spending cuts.
Boehner’s budget chief, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), unveiled a fiscal blueprint that sets a spending cap of $1.028 trillion for 2013, lower than the $1.047 trillion limit that Republicans agreed to with Democrats last year. Democrats have accused the GOP of breaking its word.
“As a result [of last year’s cut], the effort in our budget this year will actually be better than last year because we’ve already taken some steps in the right direction,” Boehner said. “Secondly, when you look at the discretionary number, it comes out of the budget that we passed last year. So I think we’ll see a strong vote of support for our budget.”
The Speaker defended the top-line number against charges from Democrats that it breaches the 2011 debt-limit agreement.
“People have limits on credit cards. That doesn’t mean that you’re required to spend up to the limit. It just says you can’t spend any more than that,” he said.
“It’s a limit. It means it’s a cap. We all know that we’ve got a real fiscal problem here in Washington, and frankly we think we can do better.”
Ryan confidently predicted the budget would pass the House. "We have the votes," he said.
Ryan said he won the support of conservatives on the budget committee for the $1.028 spending level by including instructions for six committees to come up with deeper spending cuts by May. Those cuts would be offered to the full House as a reconciliation bill, but that process would stall if the Senate, as expected, does not pass a budget resolution this year.
The House GOP's plan does not balance the budget until 2040, while conservatives have pushed for one that balances within a decade. But Ryan said the budget would balance earlier if the GOP were allowed to use better economic assumptions that reflect the dynamic effects of tax reform.
The GOP budget includes a modified version of the Medicare proposal Republicans offered last year, which was pilloried by Democrats as an “end to Medicare.” The new version is based on legislation endorsed by Ryan and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), which provides for “premium support” that would shift some of the program to a private market while also allowing seniors the option to keep traditional Medicare.
“The real key to the Ryan-Wyden proposal is that if they like Medicare, the traditional Medicare, they can stay in that plan as well,” Boehner said.
Republicans are keenly aware of the political risk in proposing a sweeping change to entitlement programs in an election year, and the Speaker began his press conference Tuesday by saying the GOP budget would “protect seniors.”
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), also defended the Medicare proposal and said “there is not a voucher in the budget.”
The GOP is hoping voters will credit the party for showing leadership in an election year by presenting a budget after Democrats in the Senate have gone more than three years without approving a full budget resolution.
This story was updated at 11:26 a.m.
— Erik Wasson contributed.