House Panel to Advance Budget Plan

House Panel to Advance Budget Plan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House panel is pressing ahead with a 10-year balanced budget plan that cuts federal health care programs and agency budgets even though tea partyers are rebelling in a setback for Speaker Paul Ryan.

The Budget Committee vote on Wednesday would send the GOP fiscal plan to the full House, but it's looking increasingly likely that the blueprint may not pass. Conservatives have rejected beefed-up spending for various government departments as set in last year's budget deal with President Barack Obama.

The situation is an embarrassment for Ryan, who said it reflects an anxious electorate in the year of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. Ryan engineered passage of four separate budget plans as chairman of the Budget Committee from 2011-2014. Now, in the first budget cycle of his brief speakership — and after years of criticizing Senate Democrats for ignoring their budget duties, the Wisconsin Republican is telling skittish GOP colleagues facing angry, anti-Washington voters that failure is an option.

"We want to work together to get this done, but it's going to be a decision left up to our members," Ryan told reporters Tuesday.

He spoke after the House Freedom Caucus rejected a plan by GOP leaders to accompany passage of the budget with a package of binding spending cuts.

The fiscal blueprint released by Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price relies on eliminating health care subsidies and other coverage provided by Obama's health care law, makes sharp cuts to Medicaid, and reprises a plan devised by Ryan years ago that would transform Medicare into a voucher-like program for future retirees. A deteriorating fiscal picture required Price, R-Ga., to propose deeper cuts than Republicans had ever proposed.

"Savings that are an illusion are not savings," said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.

The annual budget debate gives lawmakers of all stripes a chance to weigh in on the nation's fiscal woes. The government borrows about 16 cents of every dollar it spends and faces a potential debt crisis at some point if Washington's warring factions don't address the problem.

But as in past years, GOP leaders have no plans to implement the severe cuts recommended by the nonbinding blueprint.

Instead, the main goal of the budget is to set in motion the annual appropriations process, in which the 12 spending bills that set agency operating budgets are produced. That's the $1.1 trillion "discretionary" portion of the $4 trillion-plus federal budget that is passed by Congress each year.

Although Republicans have a sweeping majority in the House — 246 to 188 — the loss of about 20 of those conservatives would make it impossible to pass a budget. Every Democrat is sure to oppose the measure.

Price is nonetheless pressing ahead with a panel vote Wednesday on the 10-year measure, which relies on $6.5 trillion in spending cuts over the coming decade to demonstrate that the budget can be balanced.

"Surrendering to the status quo or failing to act boldly will mean Americans today and in the future will have less opportunity and less security," Price said in a statement.

Democrats blasted the measure for proposing cuts deeper than any of their prior plans.

"This Republican budget takes a sledgehammer to America's competitiveness and working families" said top Budget Committee Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. "It's a budget that helps the rich get richer while everyone else feels like they're running in place or falling behind."

GOP-led committees are moving ahead with a more modest series of spending cuts.

The Senate may skip the budget debate altogether and instead go straight to the annual spending bills under a little-noticed provision added to last year's bipartisan deal that permits the shortcut.

(KA)