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Loaded with deep cuts, Ryan's budget passes House committee

Published April 2, 2014 9:42 pm

Politics • It would kill health care overhaul but keep $1 trillion in Obamacare's tax hikes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • A budget plan stuffed with familiar proposals to cut across a wide swath of the federal budget breezed through the House Budget Committee on Wednesday, but its sharp cuts to health care coverage for the middle class and the poor, food stamps and popular domestic programs are a nonstarter with President Barack Obama.

The Republican-controlled committee approved the plan by a party-line vote after swatting away numerous Democratic attempts to ease its cuts. The plan by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the committee chairman and the party's former vice presidential nominee, promises $5.1 trillion in cuts over the coming decade to bring the government's ledger into the black by 2024.

The plan is a dead letter with the Democratic-controlled Senate and Obama, but gives Republicans a vehicle to polish their budget-cutting credentials in the run-up to fall midterm elections in which they're counting on a big turnout from Republican conservatives and the tea party.

Ryan's plan would wrestle the government's chronic deficits under control after a decade, relying on deep cuts to Medicaid, highway construction, federal employee pension benefits, food and heating aid to the poor, and Pell Grants for college students from low-income families. It would eliminate health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act while assuming the government keeps $1 trillion worth of Obamacare's tax increases, and retains a 10-year, $700 billion cut to Medicare, which Democrats drove through in 2010 when passing the health care law.

Republicans say such tough cuts are required to take on chronic deficits that threaten to sap the economy of its strength in coming years as government borrowing squeezes out savings and investment, and spiraling costs of federal-retirement and health-care programs promise to swamp taxpayers. Ryan cited Congressional Budget Office studies that show curbing deficits and debt would lead to a healthier economy in the long term.

"Just as a weak economy can drag the budget into the red, a responsible budget can help propel the economy forward," Ryan said. "If Washington is serious about helping working families — or serious about getting families out of work back to work — then it needs to get serious about the national debt."

But Democrats cast Ryan's plan as an all-out assault on the poor and working class. More than $700 billion in cuts to Medicaid over 10 years would force hundreds of thousands of seniors from nursing-home care, for instance, while $135 billion cut from food stamps and other nutrition aid would increase hunger. Eliminating a mandatory funding stream for Pell Grants would mean fewer poor kids could dream of college, they said, while cuts to education, scientific research and NASA would harm U.S. competitiveness.

"This dog-eat-dog budget is nothing short of an assault on Americans struggling to stay afloat economically. It absolutely decimates safety net programs — like [food stamps] and Medicaid — designed to stop people from falling into deep poverty," said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the budget panel.

The measure also reprises a proposal to dramatically reshape Medicare for future retirees, providing those who now are 55 or younger with a federal subsidy to buy health insurance on the open market.

Republicans say that makes Medicare sustainable with savings created by lower annual cost increases than traditional Medicare. Critics cite studies that predict the voucher-like plan would mean considerably higher out-of-pocket costs as it is phased in.