- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

House Democrats and Republicans dug in their heels Wednesday during debate on the GOP’s 2012 budget proposal, as supporters defended the plan as a bold attempt to return the country to financial solvency while critics portrayed it as dishonest gimmick that would kill Medicare.

The House Budget Committee, after a long day of heated debate, was poised late evening to approve the budget blueprint along partisan lines. The proposal also is expected clear the full House, where Republicans dominate, but hit a wall in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

With each side aware the measure would clear the committee, lawmakers instead used the hearing to wage a war of words in the hope of winning the public relations battle over the controversial budget plan.

“This is a Harry Potter budget - wave your magic wand create jobs,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, Kentucky Democrat. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the committee’s senior Democrat, said the GOP budget plan was the “same tired formula of extending tax breaks to the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of America - except this time on steroids.”

Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, countered that the Democratic attacks were “demagoguery and hyperbole.”

“It’s exactly that brand of politics which has prevented us from addressing the American people in an honest and a factual manner,” said Mr. Price, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.

The committee easily turned back several proposed Democratic amendments designed to curb what Democrats considered draconian spending cuts in the plan, which would slash $5.8 trillion in government 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 aims to lower government spending to less than 20 percent of the economy - in contrast to an estimated 25 percent of the gross domestic product this year. It also calls for non-security discretionary spending to dip below 2008 levels.

The budget blueprint is nonbinding, but instead will serve as a starting point when debate on the federal government’s spending bills heats up in the coming weeks.

Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, who drafted the plan, said he thinks many of the nation’s entitlement programs are worthy, but that there is considerable waste in the system.

“We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls people to lives of complacencies and dependencies, into a permanent condition where they never get on their feet,” he said.

Despite Mr. Ryan’s proposed spending cuts, his plan wouldn’t show a budget surplus for about two decades. But Republicans say the country can no longer wait to significantly chip away at its debt.

“Economists from every part of the spectrum have warned us that we have just a few precious years left to avoid a sovereign debt crisis and, potentially, the financial collapse of the United States government,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican.

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.

Democrats spent the day trying to discredit the proposed Medicare overhaul by circulating comments and analysis from economic experts - including the independent Congressional Budget Office - which predicted that, under Mr. Ryan’s plan, seniors in the future would pay more for medical care than under the current Medicare system.

“The agenda here is to shrink up government so small,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson of Connecticut. “They’re shrinking [benefits for] the elderly, causing unbelievable problems - ending Medicare as we know it.”

But the budget chairman held firm, accusing House Democrats of ignoring critical problems to Medicare when they controlled the chamber in years past.

“Whenever you put bold reforms to try and fix budget problems, the other party uses it as a political weapon against you,” Mr. Ryan told Bloomberg Television on Wednesday. “We can’t be deterred from all of this hyperventilating rhetoric and all of this demagoguery.”

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