By Russell Berman - 03/18/13 06:08 PM EDT
The conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) released its budget proposal on Monday, a document that calls for eliminating the federal deficit in four years and raising the retirement age to 70.
The fiscal plan by the large conservative bloc in the House is significantly more far-reaching than the official House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which balances the budget in a decade.
“What we do in this RSC budget is say, you don’t have to wait,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who wrote the conservative alternative. “We can make tougher decisions today, and we can end our economic crisis even earlier.”
The RSC budget, which Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) previewed on Friday, would begin Ryan’s “premium support” for Medicare five years earlier, impacting people age 59 and younger. It was gradually increase the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to 70, with the phase-up beginning in 2024.
While the RSC budget stands even less chance of becoming law than Ryan’s blueprint, the sizable and influential conservative group often serves as a signal of where the broader Republican conference is headed. The Ryan budget of 2013, for example, is similar to the vision the RSC laid out in 2011.
Like the Ryan budget, the RSC budget calls for repealing the 2010 healthcare law and proposes an overhaul of the tax code to eliminate brackets and lower rates.
In contrast to the Ryan proposal, however, the conservative blueprint calls for repealing the tax increases in the fiscal cliff agreement. “We’re doing it without the president’s tax hike from January,” Woodall said.
At first glance, the RSC budget seems like an emblem of austerity, but Woodall, a second-year member of the Budget Committee, argued that it was “the antithesis” of that.
“When I think of austerity,” he said, “I think about folks who are in a crisis that they no longer have control over. We still have the ability to make choices for ourselves. Austerity is where we’re headed.”
While the RSC budget would reduce taxes overall, Woodall highlighted the fact that it keeps revenue at around 18.5 percent of GDP, which is higher than the historical average. And once the federal government begins generating surpluses, the proposal calls for using that money to pay down the debt, rather than lowering tax rates, as Republicans did a decade ago during the last surplus.
“We do believe paid-back debt is important,” Woodall said. “We do believe that making good on those promises is important.”
Scalise has said the conservative RSC members would be urged to support both budget proposals. The RSC counts about two-thirds of the GOP conference as members, although its budget proposal last year garnered just 136 votes.
Both he and Woodall went to lengths to praise the Ryan budget and defuse talk that the drafting of an alternative signified a divided Republican conference.
“I think Paul has put together a document that can get 218 votes,” Woodall said. “I don’t know if I’m going to get 218 votes on this budget. I certainly hope that we will.”
Updated at 6:35 p.m.