- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

House Republicans introduced a budget plan Tuesday that would reduce government spending by $5.8 trillion during the next decade through a series of program cuts, entitlement reforms, tax code overhauls and a repeal of the 2010 health care law.

The plan, proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, would far exceed President Obama’s aim to cut the deficit by more than $1 trillion during the next decade.

Republicans, who have controlled the House since January, hailed Mr. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” as a rational and detailed response to tackle the nation’s runaway deficit and spending. Democrats countered that Mr. Ryan was trying to ram through harsh and irresponsible spending cuts that would harm vulnerable Americans, including senior citizens.

“We have a moral imperative … to stand up and do what is necessary to fix this country,” Mr. Ryan said. “We need a fact-based budget - no more accounting tricks, no more budget gimmicks.”

The GOP proposal in total has little or no chance of becoming law this year or next, as key elements almost certainly would die in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The non-binding budget blueprint instead will serve as a starting point when debate on the federal government’s spending bills heats up in the coming months.

But Mr. Ryan warned that Congress must slam the breaks on spending quickly or risk a catastrophic economic collapse.

“The nation’s fiscal trajectory is simply not sustainable,” he said.

The Ryan plan aims to eliminate or curtail hundreds of federal programs Republicans considers duplicative, hold to a previous GOP pledge to ban earmarks and bring non-security discretionary spending to below 2008 levels.

The plan would lower government spending to less than 20 percent of the economy - in contrast to an estimated 25 percent of the economy this year. And it promises to reach “primary balance” - when yearly revenues match annual expenses, save for debt payments, by 2015.

Despite Mr. Ryan’s proposed spending cuts, his plan wouldn’t show a budget surplus for about two decades. But he said the country faces “bitter European-like austerity,” including tax increases and cuts to seniors’ programs, unless spending is significantly curbed immediately.

“We want to pre-empt that kind of austerity,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to dig our way out of this problem.”

House Republicans also say the proposal would help stimulate the economy, citing an analysis of the plan by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, that it would help create almost a million private sector jobs next year.

But Democrats say Mr. Ryan’s push to balance the budget would be done so on the backs of the poor, working class and seniors.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, called the plan a “recycled rigid ideology” that would “will weaken American in the long run.”

“It is not courageous to protect the most powerful interests and the very wealthy at the expense of critical investments in our country,” he said.

Democrats are particularly critical of a provisions in the House GOP plan that would convert the government’s Medicare health plan for seniors into a system in which the government would provide payments for private health insurance plans.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, said the Ryan budget plan is a “thinly veiled attempt to dismantle Medicare.”

“Pulling the rug out from under seniors who have paid into Medicare and Social Security their entire lives is wrong, and extreme plans that dismantle benefits seniors have earned will not pass the Senate,” she said.

Mr. Ryan said his proposed Medicare changes wouldn’t apply to those in or near retirement.

The Ryan proposal was unveiled as Congress struggles to work out a temporary spending deal this week to keep the government running for the next six months. Many federal programs and departments could be shut down if a deal isn’t reach by the end of Friday.

Mr. Ryan downplayed speculation that his plan could be used as a bargaining chip to entice conservative House Republicans to accept a stopgap spending plan that includes fewer cuts than they want.

“That remains to be seen,” he said. “We don’t want a government shutdown. But we also don’t want to rubber stamp high, big spending.”

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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