The New York Times - House Republicans Propose Budget with Deep Cuts

News Article

By Jonathan Weisman

House Republicans called it streamlining, empowering states or "achieving sustainability." They couched deep spending reductions in any number of gauzy euphemisms.

What they would not do on Tuesday was call their budget plan, which slashes spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, a "cut."

The 10-year blueprint for taxes and spending they formally unveiled would balance the federal budget, even promising a surplus by 2024, but only with the sort of sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.

The budget -- the first since Republicans regained control of Congress this year --largely reflects the four previous versions written by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin when he was chairman of the Budget Committee. But this plan may fare better than Mr. Ryan's since Senate Republicans will be under pressure to reach an accord.

"A budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are," said Representative Rob Woodall, Republican of Georgia and a member of the Budget Committee. "We've never had the opportunity to partner with the Senate to provide real certainty."

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the committee's ranking Democrat, saw it differently: "This takes budget quackery to a new level."

Without relying on tax increases, budget writers were forced into contortions to bring the budget into balance while placating defense hawks clamoring for increased military spending. They added nearly $40 billion in "emergency" war funding to the defense budget for next year, raising military spending without technically breaking strict caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place -- essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.

And still, it achieves balance only by counting $147 billion in "dynamic" economic growth spurred by the policies of the budget itself. In 2024, the budget would produce a $13 billion surplus, thanks in part to $53 billion in a projected "macroeconomic impact" generated by Republican policies. That surplus would grow to $33 billion in 2025, and so would the macroeconomic impact, to $83 billion.

"I don't know anyone who believes we're going to balance the budget in 10 years," said Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado. "It's all hooey."

The prescribed cuts would be deep, but Republicans cast them as positive. The budget does not cut popular Pell Grants for higher education; it "makes the Pell Grant program permanently sustainable," the document says. Spending on Medicaid may fall $913 billion over a decade once the health program is turned to block grants to the states, but House Republicans preferred to say in the plan, "Our budget realigns the relationship the federal government has with states and local communities by respecting and restoring the principle of federalism."

The plan would cut billions of dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, but that was not exactly how the budget phrased the reductions.

"This budget converts SNAP to a State Flexibility Fund so state governments have the power to administer the program in ways that best fit the needs of their communities with greater incentives to achieve better results," the document says.

Domestic programs would be cut $519 billion below the already restrictive caps set in 2011. White House officials estimated that between the Affordable Care Act repeal and the cuts to Medicaid, 37 million people would lose health insurance, more than doubling the ranks of the uninsured.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called it "long on rhetoric and short on solution."

And President Obama blasted it after a meeting with Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland.

"What we're seeing right now is a failure to invest in education, infrastructure, research and national defense. All the things that we need to grow, need to create jobs, to stay at the forefront of innovation and to keep our country safe," Mr. Obama told reporters at the White House.

The House Budget Committee will formally draft the budget on Wednesday, as Senate Republicans unveil their counteroffer. Like the House version, the Senate's will balance in 10 years, aides to Republicans senators said. Like the House, the Senate will include language to help lawmakers repeal or reshape the Affordable Care Act this year. How the two chambers resolve their differences could be a central drama in Washington throughout the spring.

"This is going to be tough," said Representative Bruce Poliquin, Republican of Maine, "but we can do this. We must do this."

The most contentious area remains military spending. By increasing the so-called overseas contingency operations account, the House budget would bring total military spending higher than Mr. Obama's request, a critical demand by some Republicans in both the House and the Senate. That war funding is not supposed to go to baseline operations of the Defense Department.

"My main concern is getting the numbers up, whatever it takes," said Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, who had been clamoring to break the cap on military spending.

But Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, remained skeptical.

"If that House wants to act that way," it can, Mr. McCain said, but he criticized its version as "not legitimate budgeting."

Moderate Republicans -- and Republican senators running for re-election next year in heavily Democratic states -- are likely to have their own problems with the House approach.

"I voted against the Ryan budget in years past," said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine.

But in the end, even senior Democrats said Republicans were likely to paper over their differences for a House-Senate compromise that would set spending levels for the fiscal year that begins in October. House Republicans hope that a deal would also secure parliamentary language -- called reconciliation -- to ease passage this year of an overhaul of the tax code and a repeal of the health care law. Such language would prevent Senate Democrats from filibustering those bills, but if the bills are to become law, Republicans will have to either overcome a presidential veto or reach a compromise with the president.