CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
March 16, 2012 – 10:48 p.m.
GOP Budget Previews Election Fight
By Paul M. Krawzak, CQ Staff
House Republicans will roll out a budget this week that would cut spending below levels agreed to in last August’s debt limit law, setting up a showdown with Democrats over spending and entitlement programs that will define the election year fault lines for the parties in Congress.
House Budget Chairman
The proposal will set a discretionary spending cap below the $1.047 trillion, fiscal 2013 limit provided for in the debt limit law (PL 112-25), ensuring further battles over spending as the House and the Senate begin to move appropriations bills next month. Although $1.028 trillion appeared to be a likely compromise figure, members of the committee were still hashing out the final number during conference call discussions with only days to go until the budget was set to be unveiled.
The plan also will offer an alternative to $109 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to kick in next January as a result of a special congressional committee’s lack of agreement last year on a way to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over a decade. The potential for $55 billion in automatic cuts in Pentagon spending in the first year added urgency to the Republican efforts. The law would cut an additional $42 billion or so from domestic discretionary programs and about $12 billion from Medicare and other mandatory programs.
It remained unclear how the automatic cuts can be avoided, but one option was to combine cuts in discretionary spending with budget reconciliation instructions, requiring House committees to find savings in agricultural subsidies, food stamps and other mandatory spending programs.
Sources also said House leaders were planning to announce support for legislation to be introduced in the spring that would “rewrite” the automatic cuts. Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker
It’s unclear, however, what level of defense spending the plan will propose. The debt limit law provides for $546 billion in defense spending and $501 billion in domestic spending in fiscal 2013, before the automatic cuts would reduce those levels by $97 billion.
The budget proposal also is expected to present a revised path for controlling the rapidly growing cost of Medicare through a voucher-like, or “premium support,” program similar to one Ryan and Oregon Democratic Sen.
The Budget Committee is expected to mark up the fiscal proposal March 21, with full House consideration expected the following week — before the April 15 statutory deadline for passing a budget resolution.
Although some believed the GOP, perhaps still smarting from the budget battle that brought Congress to the brink of a government shutdown last summer, would back off from the budget that Ryan offered last year, the fiscal 2013 plan could end up with even deeper spending cuts aimed at achieving a balanced budget more quickly. If the budget could be written to balance in as little as 12 years, which is unlikely, that might be enough for the conservative House Republican Study Committee to forgo writing its own alternative budget that would balance in 10 years or less.
Cap or Level?
The political battle, likely a preview of the fall electoral campaigns, was already underway.
Democrats last week attacked the GOP for proposing a lower discretionary spending limit than the one agreed to by both parties’ leaders last year, and for health care proposals that Democrats charge would end the federal guarantee of Medicare and Medicaid coverage.
GOP Budget Previews Election Fight
House Democrats took a shot at Ryan’s video March 16, issuing a written statement saying he did not mention that his “latest budget will end the Medicare guarantee and increase costs for seniors. Republicans just don’t get it. They may want to see Medicare wither on the vine — but Americans don’t.”
Ryan says Democrats are unrealistic in treating the $1.047 trillion cap as a spending level, however, since the automatic cuts would reduce discretionary spending to $950 billion unless alternative savings are found.
Under the August debt limit law, Ryan said, “an across-the-board $97 billion discretionary spending cut will be imposed on Jan. 2, 2013, including devastating cuts to our national security. House Republicans are continuing their efforts to re-prioritize the savings ... because our troops and military families shouldn’t pay the price for Washington’s failure to take action.”
Many Democrats also prefer to avoid the automatic cuts, but they argue that it should be done through a “balanced” deficit reduction plan that includes tax increases as well as spending cuts.
The thorniest issue has been how low to cap spending. Conservatives have pushed to reduce the discretionary limit to $931 billion, more than $100 billion below the $1.047 trillion cap in the debt law. Some have threatened to vote against a budget that does not cut deeply enough. GOP appropriators argued for hewing to the debt limit cap, which they say would make it easier to move appropriations bills through the House and reach agreement with the Senate.
Republican Study Committee Chairman
Appropriators say domestic spending can’t afford such deep cuts, and entitlement programs should contribute. If the lower number sought by conservatives holds, said House Appropriations member
Budget writers also were trying to win over conservatives by incorporating some of their proposals in the spending plan. One proposal being considered was an RSC-backed bill (
The proposal aims to save $2 trillion over a decade by combining federal funding for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program into a single block grant, freezing spending and giving states more authority to design the aid programs.
Richard E. Cohen contributed to this story.