House passes Ryan's '12 budget; conservatives want more cuts

The House on Friday approved a fiscal year 2012 budget resolution from Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that seeks to drastically limit government spending next year and in years to follow.

But the vote on the measure — which imposes $5.8 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade — came after a clear sign that at least half of the Republican Caucus supports even tougher spending cuts.

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The final tally was 235-193, with four Republicans opposing it. They were Reps. Ron Paul (Texas), Denny Rehberg (Mont.), Walter Jones (N.C.) and David McKinley (W.Va.).

Rehberg, the appropriator in charge of health spending, is running for Montana's Senate seat.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said listening sessions with Republican members made it the strongest vote of the year.

"This is the process we should follow on all votes," he said.

Every Democrat voted "no."

Democrats in a press conference after the vote made much of their unified opposition to the bill, saying that in defense of Medicare the party speaks with one voice. "The battle lines are drawn," Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said.

The bill will now be considered by the Senate, where it is considered dead on arrival.

The White House responded to the House vote with a statement from press secretary Jay Carney.

"The President agrees with House Republicans that we must reduce our deficit and put our country on a fiscally sound path, but we disagree with their approach," it read. 

Carney pushed for the plan President Obama unveiled earlier in the week.

"The President’s approach ensures the nation lives within its means by cutting spending and bringing down the debt, while supporting our economic recovery and ensuring we are making the investments we need to win the future," the statement read.


More from The Hill on the 2012 budget:
♦ Ryan: Budget is 'compassionate and optimistic'
♦ Obama to hit the road to sell his plan
♦ GOP wants debt display in House
♦ DCCC chief: Dems win back the House over budget
♦ Protesters interrupt budget debate
♦ Two Republicans with 2012 challenges vote against


Earlier in the day, the House rejected an alternative budget that would have made even deeper cuts than Ryan's proposal, but only after a chaotic scene on the House floor. 

In an effort to embarrass Republicans by having them approve a budget that makes deeper cuts than Ryan's proposal, Democrats voted "present" on the Republican Study Committee bill. Initially, 124 Republicans were prepared to support the measure offered by the conservative RSC, but several switched their votes when it appeared the bill might pass. 

In the end, 119 Republicans voted for the RSC budget, with 120 Republicans voting against. The bill failed in a 119-136 vote.

Closing debate on the Ryan plan was about as chaotic as the RSC vote, as Republicans and Democrats were interrupted eight times by protesters in the gallery. The House appeared to be considering closing the gallery, but after one six-minute delay continued on.

Republicans closed their arguments for the Ryan proposal by saying that the government is broke and that the $14 trillion government debt must be brought down in order to assure companies, families and the world that the government is taking steps to manage its finances and reduce the risk of higher inflation in the future.

"Will we be remembered as the Congress that did nothing as the nation sped toward a preventable debt crisis and irreversible decline, or will we instead be remembered as a Congress that did the hard work of preventing that crisis, the one that chose this path to prosperity?" Ryan asked during the debate. 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) added that the GOP plan would keep alive entitlement programs like Medicare; however, he said these entitlements must be addressed if the larger fiscal situation is to be resolved.

"While it may be seen by some as politically risky, we Republicans are willing to lead because, to be frank, complacency is not an option," Cantor said.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) added in his closing remarks that Republicans would hold the line against Obama's request for a clean bill to extend the debt ceiling.

"The president wants a clean bill, and the American people will not tolerate it," Boehner said. "Let me be clear: There will be no debt-limit increase unless it's accompanied by serious spending cuts and real budget reforms."

Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) countered by saying both parties want to cut spending but that "the question throughout this debate is not whether, but how we do that." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reiterated that point by saying the GOP plan should have reduced defense spending rather than cut aid to middle-class Americans.

"I urge a 'no' vote on the Republican plan," Pelosi said.

The GOP resolution won’t be approved by the Senate, and budget resolutions do not go to the president or hold the force of law.

Still, the resolution is important in laying down a marker for House Republicans. Ryan has said that the GOP will deem his budget as the ceiling for spending for 2012.

For this reason, the most important aspect of the resolution is the allocation it gives to the Appropriations Committee for next year: $1.019 trillion in non-emergency spending. This number will play a big role in a looming spending fight in the fall.

It also means that the GOP will be demanding a further cut of at least $31 billion in September from levels set by the White House budget deal that passed the Congress on Thursday.

If Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on appropriations spending by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, the government will shut down.

Ryan’s resolution would balance the budget by 2040 without raising tax rates. Instead, the budget calls for the corporate and top individual tax rates to be lowered from 35 percent to 25 percent.

The budget’s provisions on Medicare brought tough criticism from Obama this week.

To rein in costs, the program coverts Medicare to a type of voucher system for those currently under 55 years of age. Instead of government-run Medicare, seniors would buy private insurance plans and the government would foot some of the bill.

The savings comes from the fact that the “premium support” is capped, something the Congressional Budget Office says will result in seniors having to pay much more out of pocket for healthcare as costs rise faster than inflation.

Obama this week called for wringing savings from Medicare by giving new powers to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) to limit Medicare payments. He said Ryan’s plan would end Medicare as it is now known.

On Medicaid, the Ryan budget converts the federal share of the program into a block grant, which is also capped. Democrats have pointed out that the very elderly often rely on Medicaid once nursing homes have drained their savings.

The House also rejected three other alternative proposals. One, from Van Hollen, was defeated in a 166-259 vote. A Progressive Caucus budget was rejected in a 77-347 vote, and one from the Congressional Black Caucus was rejected 103-303.

A fifth proposal that would have implemented the recommendations of Obama's debt commission was not offered. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) withdrew his proposal Thursday night, indicating that a House vote against it might spoil efforts in the Senate to reach an agreement based on the recommendations of the president's fiscal commission.

"I do not think it is wise to risk doing anything to derail or impair those behind-the-scenes negotiations, which I am told by key senators in both parties could be the result of a premature House vote," Cooper said.