The Republican-led House passed on Friday its fiscal 2012 budget resolution, which cuts $5.8 trillion from current spending levels over the next 10 years and reforms Medicare and Medicaid, a clear display of the GOP's vision for policy and spending. The plan in its current form has little chance of passing the Senate, but is another shot in what will be a continuing battle over spending priorities.
The spending plan, largely crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., passed on a nearly party line vote of 235-193. The budget resolution comes as the nation's budget deficit is expected to remain historically high, at more than $1 trillion for the current and next fiscal year. During the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans campaigned on cutting spending and reducing the deficit, which gave them control of the House and increased their numbers in the Senate. The spending blueprint reflects their efforts to keep those promises, which they also believe is good politics.
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One area where Republicans are looking for savings is within entitlement programs, which are the largest drivers of the budget deficit. Under the plan, Medicare would be changed to a defined-contribution voucher plan, while Medicaid would shift to a block grant system.
The proposals could be politically risky because they threaten to alienate seniors and open the GOP up to criticism from Democrats that they will hurt the poor.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stood with seniors at a press conference on Friday to oppose the GOP budget.
She said the plan would force seniors to pay "twice as much for less coverage" under the GOP Medicare plan and would raise prescription drug costs. She also argued that the poor would lose needed services under the Medicaid plan.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., has said he wants to move the Senate spending plan after the two-week spring recess. If the Senate approves a budget resolution, Conrad and Ryan will try to reconcile differences in the two plans so both chambers can approve the same resolution. Given that Republicans control the House and Democrats rule the Senate, however, chances that agreement can be reached on a single spending plan are not very good.
During the debate, nine protesters were removed from the House gallery. Sitting in various parts of the visitors' chambers, the protesters, mostly young men and women, would stand up one-by-one and ad lib lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner" and "We Shall Overcome." Outside the chamber, where the protesters were taken and arrested by Capitol Police, one hinted that the message was environmental. While being handcuffed with zip cuffs, she said, "We just want our government to protect our earth and future ..." Several lawmakers called on the chair to empty the chamber while the protesters were being disruptive.
Image credit: J. Scott Applewhite