- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan proposed a budget Tuesday that he said can cut $4.6 trillion and bring federal finances to balance in 10 years, calling the plan an “invitation” to find common ground with President Obama and congressional Democrats.

Mr. Ryan’s plan kicks off what is likely to be the most important budget debate in Congress in four years, with Senate Democrats preparing a blueprint that will rely heavily on tax increases to cut red ink and Mr. Obama also promising a budget soon.

Lawmakers said that taken together, they will give voters a clearer picture of each party’s priorities at a time when all sides hope there is an opportunity to strike a broad deal on taxes and entitlements that could get a grip on federal debt, which has ballooned dramatically over the past six years.

“We believe that we owe the American people a balanced budget,” Mr. Ryan said. “And for the third straight year, we’ve delivered.”

Mr. Ryan’s plan relies in part on eviscerating spending on Mr. Obama’s health care law, and would add private competition into Medicare to try to control that program’s projected cost jump in future decades.

Although Mr. Ryan’s plan assumes the repeal of “Obamacare” to make way for a different system of health care reform, it used a baseline of tax revenue from the law and the New Year’s “fiscal cliff” deal.

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The former vice presidential candidate acknowledged that the revenues make it easier to achieve balance, but he countered that House Republicans will work out a “pro-growth” tax code to return to their party’s principles and account for taxes that would be eliminated as part of a health care law repeal.

The Wisconsin Republican said the law is a “fiscal train wreck” with runaway spending and onerous mandates that will permanently harm the private insurance market and prospects for financial stability unless it is eliminated.

“We know without a shred of doubt we are consigning the next generation to an inferior standard of living,” Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats were quick to lambaste Mr. Ryan’s budget as a hypocritical and unworkable plan that burdens the uninsured and middle class instead of requiring more from the rich.

“The Republican budget is nothing more than more of the same,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Americans deserve better than the same old fuzzy Republican math and budget gimmicks.”

Their reaction raised concerns about whether the two parties will be able to bridge the philosophical chasm that has stymied big deals for the past two years.

Mr. Ryan’s Senate counterpart, Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, is expected Wednesday to release the first Senate Democratic budget since 2009. Senate Democrats on Tuesday said her plan will call for about $1 trillion in additional taxes and about an equal amount of spending cuts during the next 10 years.

Mr. Obama said Tuesday in meetings with Senate Democrats that he would send them a budget the week of April 8 that would reflect the party’s priorities. Such a submission date would miss by about two months the statutory target for a president to provide Congress with a spending blueprint.

Unlike the Ryan plan, neither Mrs. Murray’s nor Mr. Obama’s blueprints are expected to offer a balanced budget during a 10-year time frame.

“We’re not going to balance the budget in 10 years” in the manner Mr. Ryan proposes, Mr. Obama told ABC News. “My goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work? And if we do that, we are going to be bringing in more revenue.”

Mrs. Murray’s proposal and any likely Obama budget are dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House, while the Ryan blueprint will die in the Democrat-run Senate.

But it’s not a given that the Murray plan will even survive her own chamber, as several moderates in her party are up for re-election next year in conservative states — including Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana — and thus may find it difficult to support the plan’s tax increases.

Mr. Begich, when asked whether he could support a budget plan that doesn’t balance in a time-certain fashion, suggested the Murray blueprint could be tweaked.

“We’re looking to balance it — I don’t worry about those things,” he told reporters.

Budget plans are nonbinding, but they set the tone for the legislative initiatives and debates for each party and chamber for the rest of the year. Some provisions in the blueprints likely will be spun off into separate bills.

Senate Republicans — who have mocked Senate Democrats for failing to submit a budget — haven’t offered a plan of their own.

From the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he expected a “kinder, gentler” Republican Party after it lost the presidential race and congressional seats in the November elections, only to find a Ryan budget that is “anything but balanced.”

Mr. Ryan acknowledged his party’s setbacks at the ballot box, but said it would not surrender its principles. The attempts to eliminate Mr. Obama’s health care law, however, are effectively futile with a Democratic majority in the Senate and Mr. Obama’s veto pen.

Mr. Ryan’s plan, titled “The Path to Prosperity,” would simplify the tax code into two brackets, of 10 percent and 25 percent, and repeal a Wall Street regulatory bill known as Dodd-Frank and the high-speed rail programs promoted by Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

On Medicare reform, Mr. Ryan asked Congress to keep benefits in place for those near retirement, yet transform the program for younger Americans by allowing private plans to compete with the traditional fee-for-service model. The competition would take place within a “Medicare Exchange,” a concept that evokes the marketplaces under Mr. Obama’s law.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the House Budget Committee, criticized his Republican counterpart for crafting a plan that accounts for revenue from the health care law while trying to repeal it, and for retaining cuts to Medicare that Mr. Ryan blasted on the campaign trail last year.

“You just can’t have it both ways,” the congressman from Maryland told reporters.

Sniping over the budget plan arrives days after Mr. Obama sat down with Mr. Ryan and Mr. Van Hollen, as some on Capitol Hill hold out hope for a “grand bargain” to rein in the nation’s debt.

“I don’t think it means we can’t get there,” Mr. Van Hollen said of the discord. “It shows the gulf we have to bridge is wide.”



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