- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2018

House Republicans on Tuesday proposed slashing trillions of dollars from the federal budget over the next decade, aiming to reach balance in nine years largely through limiting the growth of entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid.

House Budget Committee Chairman Steve Womack announced the plan and will put up for votes before his panel this week, more than two months behind the statutory deadline.

Republicans on the committee dismissed political concerns about laying out such a plan in an election year, saying voters deserve to see Congress have serious conversations about what it will take to get a handle on exploding deficits and debt.

“I can’t think of anything worse for Republicans than not passing a budget and showing the American people what has to be done to get our fiscal [house] in order,” said Rep. Drew Ferguson, Georgia Republican.

It’s not clear whether the budget is going anywhere.

With Republicans battling to retain their House and Senate majorities, GOP leadership in both chambers might not want to force their vulnerable members to vote for a plan that could open them up to likely Democratic attacks that they’re trying to take away health benefits from the elderly and the poor.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi has said he’s working on his own 2019 plan and would be ready if called upon by leadership to speed things along, but that there’s less urgency to get one done with next year’s spending levels already set by a two-year deal reached earlier this year.

Mr. Womack, though, said writing a plan is part of his job.

“It’s about the budget committee doing its functional duty, and that’s what my concentration has been throughout the time I’ve been chair,” he said.

His plan envisions reducing spending on mandatory programs like Medicare and Medicaid — the chief drivers of the national debt — by $5.4 trillion over 10 years.

He proposes per capita spending caps for Medicaid, or optional block grants if states want to go that route, as well as work requirements for certain able-bodied adult participants in Medicaid.

Combined with $2.7 trillion in other parts of the budget, he projects the government would begin running surpluses in 2027.

That’s far better than current law, which the Congressional Budget Office says would produce a $1.3 trillion deficit in 2027.

Mr. Womack said “there is no better time” to start taking serious steps toward reining in a federal debt that already tops $21 trillion.

Democrats said they’re eager to highlight the cuts the GOP is proposing.

“Personally, I think it’s politically riskier for them to do this and put these massive cuts out as part of their agenda than it would be to fail to put a budget resolution out that nobody thinks is necessary,” said Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the budget committee.

Fiscal watchdog groups gave the plan mixed reviews, applauding the goal of reining in deficits but questioning Republicans’ commitment after the GOP approved a $1.5 trillion tax package last year and the $1.3 trillion spending bill in March.

“It is long past time to stop the games and propose real, meaningful solutions that set today’s priorities without leaving future generations with the bill,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Today’s proposed budget should be the beginning of this fiscal process, not the end.”

The budget plan directs 11 House committees to find savings in mandatory spending of at least $302 billion over 10 years, though it says those targets are a “floor” and not a ceiling.

On the discretionary spending side, the budget projects that defense spending would grow from $647 billion in 2019 to $736 billion by 2028, while domestic spending is projected to dip from $597 billion next year to $555 billion by 2021 and frozen at that level through 2028.

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