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House passes GOP proposal to cut spending by $5.8 trillion

Democrats ridicule foes’ Medicare plan

By Carl Hulse
New York Times / April 16, 2011

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WASHINGTON — House Republicans yesterday muscled through a budget plan that pares federal spending by an estimated $5.8 trillion over the next decade while reshaping Medicare in a proposal that immediately touched off a fierce clash with Democrats.

Just one day after Congress concluded its fight over this year’s spending, the House voted 235-193 to approve the fiscal blueprint for 2012 drafted by Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Budget Committee.

Besides reconfiguring the Medicare program that now serves those 65 and older, the proposal would cut the top corporate and personal income tax rates while also overhauling the Medicaid health program for the poor.

The vote represents the most ambitious effort yet by the new Republican majority in the House to demonstrate that it intends to aggressively rein in spending and shrink government. It doubles as a challenge to President Obama over which party is more determined to force a sharp shift in the handling of federal dollars.

“The spending spree is over,’’ Ryan said. “We cannot keep spending money we don’t have.’’

Almost as soon as the budget was approved, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader, vowed that the plan would never pass the Senate, setting up another tense showdown with House Republicans over spending as well as over an administration request to raise the federal debt limit.

Not a single Democrat voted for the proposal, which will effectively serve as the House Republican bargaining position in talks with the White House and the Democratic Senate over how to reduce annual federal deficits and the accumulated national debt. Four Republicans also voted against it.

Within minutes of the vote, Democrats began attacking Republican lawmakers for supporting the plan. “Unbelievable! Dean Heller Votes to End Medicare,’’ the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee headlined an e-mail broadside against Representative Dean Heller, a Republican running for an open Senate seat in Nevada.

On the House floor, Democrats ridiculed the notion that Ryan’s $3.5 trillion plan for next year was bold for zeroing in on health programs despite political risks. They accused Republicans of promoting a morally skewed vision of America by taking savings out of medical care for older Americans and the poor while supporting tax breaks for corporate America and the affluent. The budget proposal would maintain the tax rates enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency and extended last year.

“It is not courageous to provide additional tax breaks for millionaires while ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors and sticking seniors with the cost of rising health care,’’ said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Budget Committee.

The most politically charged element of the budget plan is a proposal to convert Medicare from a program in which the federal government serves as the health insurer for Americans 65 and older to one in which older Americans join private health plans that are subsidized by the government.

Republicans defended their proposal as the best way to guarantee the future of a program headed toward insolvency and noted that Americans who are now 55 and older would still be able to participate in the current Medicare program.

They accused Democrats of distorting the Medicare proposal while employing scare tactics to stir anti-Republican sentiment among older voters. Ryan said such political machinations had in the past prevented Congress from taking the difficult steps needed to get the deficit under control.

“We have too many people worried about the next election and not worried about the next generation,’’ he said.

Acknowledging the political hazards of proposing fundamental changes in a program so popular with the crucial senior voting bloc, Representative Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican and majority leader, said Republicans saw no choice but to move forward.

Republicans also said that giving future retirees access to private health plans would provide them with more choices. A Congressional Budget Office review of the Ryan proposal predicted that retirees would pay more for their health care under it than they would under traditional Medicare. The agency also said the Ryan plan to convert federal Medicaid spending into block grants for states would most likely reduce benefits for those enrolled in the program.

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