By Mike Lillis - 03/20/12 05:19 PM EDT
House Republicans have broken last year's debt-ceiling agreement with their new budget plan, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) charged Thursday.
The Maryland Democrat said Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget proposal for fiscal 2013 not only defies the debt agreement GOP leaders made with President Obama last year, but also threatens more high-stakes negotiations in the future.
"They made a deal and they can't keep a deal," Hoyer told reporters during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol. "It's gonna be hard to negotiate with people and try to come to an agreement in the democratic process if the other side simply says, 'Well, yeah, we agreed on that some months ago, but we're abandoning it now.' "
The GOP's budget, which Ryan unveiled Tuesday morning, would set a $1.028 trillion discretionary spending cap — $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion cap set by last summer’s debt-ceiling deal.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) defended the plan Tuesday, saying the $1.047 trillion figure was always just a ceiling.
"People have limits on credit cards, that doesn't mean you're required to spend up to the limit. It just says you can't spend any more than that," Boehner said during a short press conference in the Capitol following the GOP's weekly caucus meeting. "It's a limit — it means it's a cap.
"We all know that we have a real fiscal problem here in Washington," he added, "and frankly we think we can do better."
But Hoyer and Democrats disagree with Boehner’s take on the August agreement. They note that, as recently as last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was urging Democrats to base next year's spending bills on the $1.047 figure.
"There is no doubt that everybody at the table thought there was a deal, an understanding, an agreement," Hoyer said, citing McConnell. "And that agreement would be that we would have discretionary spending this year at $1.047 trillion."
Aside from reducing the discretionary spending cap, the Republican budget would extensively overhaul the nation's tax code, condensing the current system of six individual rates into just two: 25 percent and 10 percent. The plan does not specify, however, the income thresholds that would correspond to the new rates.
Hoyer noted that the vague nature of the proposal means there's no way to determine the precise effects on taxpayers. "But we think there's little doubt," he added, "that that is again a huge advantage for the wealthiest in America."
Supporters of the Republicans' budget concede it has no chance of passing with the Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House. Still, budget plans offer a comprehensive road map of a party's priorities, and the proposal — like that offered by Obama last month — is sure to play a big role on the campaign trail leading up to November's elections.
The inclusion of sweeping tax reforms is an indication that the Republicans are hoping to focus the debate on that issue, rather than contentious Medicare provisions that got them in political troubles last year. Democrats want to channel the conversation toward the Medicare reforms for that very reason.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that Ryan's proposal will "end the Medicare guarantee, shift costs to seniors, and let Medicare wither on the vine."
"Republicans must work with Democrats to preserve and strengthen Medicare, not dismantle it," Pelosi said.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, is expected to unveil the Democratic alternative to Ryan's plan later this month. It remains unseen if that proposal will also feature comprehensive tax reforms.