Paul Ryan’s Budget Faces a Perilous Future

Posted March 20, 2012 at 6:38pm

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” might have hit a dead end.

Months of legislative wrangling have left the Wisconsin Republican with his grand fiscal 2013 budget that sets out House Republicans’ values and hopes to get the country back on the right track.

And while Democrats immediately spurned the plan, it might be a small cadre of disenfranchised Republicans who shoot it down today.

If all of the Budget Committee Democrats vote against Ryan’s proposal in today’s markup as expected, just three of the 22 Republican members voting against the resolution could mark the end of the road.

The panel is stacked with conservative Republican Study Committee members and tea party freshmen who gripe that the plan does not go far enough to address the debt. Interviews with Members and staff showed that the votes to move the plan out of committee were not yet there on Tuesday evening.

While most Budget Committee Republicans are onboard with the proposal, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) was the first Republican to say he would vote against the measure and Reps. Todd Akin (Mo.) and Justin Amash (Mich.) were still undecided.

“It’s just another promise that I’m afraid will be broken,” Huelskamp said Tuesday at a Heritage Foundation event. “It’s a big step forward. But in my opinion, it’s not the big leap America so desperately needs.”

Amash said he has issues with the way the budget deals with sequestration.

Ryan’s plan would delay the $110 billion in cuts mandated by sequestration in fiscal 2013, offering just about $18.3 billion in cuts instead.

“I want to make sure we follow through with commitments that were made under the Budget Control Act,” Amash said. “It’s making sure that we put forth something that’s credible, that reflects the commitments we’ve made to the American people by law.”

Akin had other issues with defense cuts, according to his staff.

Adding to the fray, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who was expected to vote for the resolution, will miss the committee vote because of a district event.

If Ryan cannot pass the measure in committee, he could tinker with it, but doing so could risk alienating others.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), for instance, said he does not approve of the budget’s $1.028 trillion spending cap but will vote for it because he agrees with Ryan’s method of alleviating the sequester’s scheduled cuts to defense. “It would be unfortunate if someone tried to undo it or push it too much one way or the other,” Cole said. “We should basically vote like a team and recognize that this is a compromise.”

Even if the bill passes in committee, it could face trouble on the floor. Budget Committee freshman Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) said he will vote for the plan in committee but may not support it on the floor because he shares Amash’s concerns about the sequester.

And even if it passes the House, it has virtually no chance in the Senate.

Democratic leaders bristled Tuesday at attempts to cut more from the domestic discretionary budget than had been agreed to in the BCA.

Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) held a briefing as Ryan was unveiling his plan to announce he was taking the first procedural steps in starting the budget process with the BCA’s spending levels.

The BCA requires the Budget Committee chairman to do so by April, but the timing of Conrad’s move served as a sign to Republicans that Democrats will fight further cuts than the built-in $900 billion already signed into law, not including the sequester’s cuts, which kick in because of the failure of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.

“The Budget Control Act is crystal clear that the spending limits in the resolution should be set at the levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act. Again, here is the language taken directly from the law,” Conrad said.

After reiterating the depth of the proposed cuts, Conrad added, “Now our House Republican friends seem to be walking away from these levels, even though they agreed to them just seven months ago.”

The White House trained its fire on Ryan’s plan even as he was laying it out, with White House spokesman Dan
Pfeiffer saying it “would shower the wealthiest few Americans” with tax cuts and repeating last year’s charge that it would “end Medicare as we know it” because it would shift costs to future seniors.

White House Press Secretary Jay
Carney said the modified version of Ryan’s signature Medicare plan — which retains a public insurance option, unlike last year’s proposal — isn’t much better.

“We do not believe there is much difference at all,” Carney said. The budget “still creates a voucher system.”

He said private insurance companies would “cherry-pick the healthiest, youngest seniors” and increase costs for seniors who stay on traditional Medicare.

Democrats plan to use the Ryan budget to bash Republicans at the ballot box this fall, much as Republicans used the $500 billion in Medicare Advantage cuts in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul to tar Democrats in 2010.

Carney also called Ryan’s tax reform blueprint a “bait-and-switch” because it lays out all of the positive aspects of his tax reform plan — such as dramatically lower rates, capped at 25 percent — without saying how he will pay for it or ensuring the middle class won’t foot the bill.

Carney said that by contrast, Obama has laid out the principle of the “Buffett Rule” that would ensure that millionaires pay at least as high a tax rate as the middle class.

Republicans, however, jumped on a report by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation that said a bill based on the Buffett Rule by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) would raise just $31 billion over the coming decade as a sign that Obama isn’t serious about the debt.

Carney said Obama’s budget shrinks the annual deficit “to a very manageable level” and follows a balanced approach that bipartisan budget groups have all used, with a mix of revenue and spending cuts. He said the president’s approach largely follows the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, which Obama never fully embraced.

Senior administration officials, meanwhile, insisted that a Republican push to undo the sequester on defense spending wasn’t going anywhere, and they are already looking ahead to the lame-duck session after the elections for a climactic battle over spending and taxes.