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GOP Uses Budget to Reclaim Its Brand

After being labeled the “party of no for” months by Democrats who accused them of offering up no new ideas, House Republicans unveiled a bold budget proposal Wednesday that attempts to repair their party’s tattered claims to fiscal responsibility.

The blueprint announced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the Budget Committee, comes a week after GOP leadership received bipartisan ridicule for unveiling a proposal that didn’t include a single number.

Ryan’s plan takes an ax to President Barack Obama’s budget, slicing $4.8 trillion in spending over the next decade, ditching economic stimulus spending, enacting sweeping new cost controls on Medicare and Medicaid, and offering up a host of new tax cuts for businesses and individuals.

“We have a plan to get our debt under control,— Ryan said.

The alternative offers a far more conservative outline than past Republican efforts, and is cheered conservatives who have yearned for something concrete to support. It remains unclear, however, whether the blueprint offers Republicans enough of a rally point for a party revival or whether its call for tough fiscal medicine will turn off voters worried about their economic security.

The Democratic budget proposal is expected to move toward final passage today, with little question over its passage.

Republican leaders have panned the Democratic plan for “spending too much, taxing too much and borrowing too much,— and are whipping Members against it, but not whipping for the GOP alternative, said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the Chief Deputy Whip.

The biggest issue for Republicans in sticking together at today’s vote rests with their moderates, who may balk at measures contained in the GOP blueprint, which includes a five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending. Last year, 38 Republicans opposed Ryan’s budget proposal.

“A lot of the middle-of-the-road Republicans are thinking of voting against it,— Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) said.

Emerson said that the GOP proposal’s numbers were not even adjusted for inflation and that it was a pretty hefty lift. But she added that she had yet not read Ryan’s blueprint.

Democratic leaders and the White House argued that the GOP plan represents more of the same policies of cutting taxes for the wealthy that marked the Bush administration, but they said they were nonetheless happy that Republicans have started putting ink to paper. Last week, GOP leaders unveiled a 19-page summary document that shed little light into the specifics of their plan.

“I don’t think that there is a better example of the differences of where the president is and the direction he’s trying to set and the failed policies of the past,— Rob Nabors, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a conference call with reporters.

But Republicans noted the White House’s aggressive reaction as a sign that they are making progress. “The White House is worried because Republicans have a better solution, and the American people know it,— said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Ryan’s budget still assumes $6 trillion in borrowing over the next decade, but that’s $3.3 trillion less in red ink than Obama’s plan.

Ryan also would rescind the spending in Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package except for unemployment insurance, restrict Medicaid payments to states to inflationary increases and hold the line on Medicare spending as well, although the document didn’t include much detail on how the health care savings would be achieved without compromising care.

Ryan defended the proposals to restrict spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other safety net programs, saying they are going “bankrupt— and would spur an explosion of debt unless they are dealt with.

But Nabors criticized Ryan’s proposal for assuming deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid without saying how they would be achieved without rationing health care.

“What they are essentially saying is, we are going to cut the program but we aren’t going to do anything to cut health care costs,— Nabors said.

Ryan also proposed new cuts to corporate and capital gains taxes, which he argued would get “private capital off the sidelines,— spur a recovery and make the country more competitive.

“We can’t tax our employers more than our competitors tax theirs,— he said.

Ryan also took a stab at Social Security reform, proposing a trigger — one that he said he borrowed from Obama Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag — that would shrink some Social Security payments to some higher-earning seniors in the year 2036. Any savings would be plowed back into the program to mitigate a potential 22 percent cut in benefits in 2041.

Nabors said the administration would look into the Social Security proposal but considers reforming health care and containing health care costs as the president’s priority and the key to reducing long-term deficits.

Ryan ultimately contended that the plan represented a new era for Republicans.

“In the recent past, the Republican Party failed to offer the nation an inspiring vision and a concrete plan to tackle our problems with innovative and principled solutions,— he said. “We do not intend to repeat that mistake.—

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

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