By Erik Wasson - 04/06/11 10:40 PM EDT
House Republicans said they wanted a full-throated conversation on America’s deepest fiscal problems — and they got that on Wednesday.
The House Budget Committee went item by item through the GOP’s 2012 budget resolution, and Democrats threw everything they could at it.
The committee was on track to spend 13 hours on some 30 Democratic amendments to the plan, authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The resolution was sure to be reported out of committee and will head to the House floor next week.
Democrats eagerly launched salvos against the plan, saying that the GOP balanced the budget by declaring “war” on seniors and the poor while showering millionaires with “largesse,” in order to, as Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) put it, “worship” Ronald Reagan with “candles and incense.”
Republicans defended the plan just as vigorously and sought to claim the intellectual high ground, accusing Democrats of failing to take the national debt seriously.
Paul Ryan said Democrats must “stop the demagoguery.”
“We are on a path of economic ruin,” Ryan urged.
The $5.8 trillion in spending cuts his budget would make over the next decade cannot be avoided, Ryan explained to Democratic critics.
“Why are we doing that? Because we can’t keep spending money we don’t have,” said Ryan, who began the markup by once again rolling out a PowerPoint presentation that showed the national debt exploding over the course of the next half-century, mostly due to rising entitlement costs driven by retiring baby boomers.
Ryan defended his proposed reforms to Medicare and Medicaid, which Democrats say would hurt the poor and elderly, again saying the programs needed to be changed so that they could survive. He also emphasized that the reforms are “gradual.”
But Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the ranking Democrat on Ryan’s panel, countered with a blistering attack.
He said Ryan recognized that individual self-reliance is an important part of the American character, but failed to understand that America is also about uniting to work for the common good, something that often requires government.
“We do not see the government as the enemy, but as the imperfect instrument by which we can accomplish together as a people what no individual or corporation can do alone,” he said.
Van Hollen criticized a budget he said cut aid to seniors and the poor but preserved tax breaks for the ultra-rich. “Where is the shared sacrifice?” he said.
In response to Van Hollen, Ryan decried Democratic “Medi-scare tactics.”
“Our rights come from God, they don’t come from government,” Ryan said.
Democrats fired back.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who emerged as a firebrand, said the budget provided “fat cats” with a “road to riches” by cutting taxes for the wealthy. He repeatedly called it the “road to ruin” budget.
“The only two times they have taken control of the House in [the] last decades, they have attempted to shut down government,” Tonko said of the GOP.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J) said, “Your budget needs a GPS, because it is a roadmap into the woods and there is no way to get out.”
He pointed out cuts to Agriculture Department inspections.
“Mr. Chairman, I don’t want to taste tainted meat!” Pascrell said.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said the budget “rips the skin off our middle class and working class” while it “cuts the arms off” financial regulators in order to benefit Wall Street.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) decried GOP estimates that the budget would lower unemployment to 4 percent by 2015.
“This is a Harry Potter budget. Wave your wand and you create jobs,” he said.
Democrats offered amendments to highlight aspects of the Ryan plan.
They forced the GOP to vote against ending George W. Bush-era tax breaks for millionaires, against restoring unlimited Medicaid as it applies to nursing homes and against ending cuts to Head Start.
They forced the GOP to vote against an amendment guaranteeing that tax breaks for the middle class would not be cut under the budget and against an amendment that would eliminate loopholes that allow multinational corporations to avoid paying taxes in the United States.
The new Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), introduced an amendment to restore funding to medical research, saying the cuts will delay cancer cures.
Republicans countered that they were the ones being reasonable.
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) said it is more in keeping with the American character to tackle problems honestly rather than to “sling rocks” when someone comes up with an honest budget.
“I would respect the criticisms a lot more if last year when Democrats were in power they had a budget,” he said.
Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) decried Democratic attacks and called them distortions made “for political gain today.”