WASHINGTON – Republicans controlling Congress Wednesday unveiled a budget plan for the upcoming year and beyond, setting up a confrontation with President Barack Obama over his signature health care law and his vow to boost spending on domestic programs like transportation and education.
House-Senate negotiators on the sweeping — but nonbinding — budget plan sealed agreement Wednesday. The 10-year balanced budget plan calls upon lawmakers to repeal Obama’s health care law while enacting major curbs on safety net programs like Medicaid and food stamps. It would cut future-year budgets for domestic agencies below already tight spending “caps” that the White House vows to dismantle.
Separately, the House took up a normally bipartisan bill funding veterans’ programs, but the measure ran into unusual opposition from Democrats despite increases of almost 6 per cent above current levels for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The White House promises to veto the veterans’ bill in protest of unrelated GOP plans to boost the Pentagon’s budget while ignoring pleas to increase domestic programs.
The broader 10-year budget plan promised to cut federal spending projected at almost $50 trillion over the coming decade by more than $5 trillion, with the bulk of the cuts coming from federal health care programs. The measure would pave the way to finally deliver a bill to repeal “Obamacare” to the president’s desk under special budget rules.
Democrats say the cuts are unfairly tilted against the poor and middle class and that repealing the health care law would take medical care away from about 27 million people. The measure cuts across a wide swath of domestic programs, including Pell grants and student loans, tax credits for the poor, and Medicaid, which provides assisted-living care for millions of frail elderly people.
“This budget tells our children that their education isn’t a priority. It makes it harder for their parents to put food on the table and own a home. It throws millions of Americans off of their affordable health care plans,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., top Democrat on the Budget Committee. “Simply put, it is a short-sighted plan that makes it harder for families to achieve the American dream.”
Republicans, by contrast, say balancing the budget will strengthen the economy and preserve important programs like Medicare for future generations.
“We are going to be passing a balanced budget for a stronger America so that we can … look to the future of our country and say to our children and my grandchildren that we’re doing everything that we can do to get this budget onto balance,” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.
But Republicans are focused more on repealing so-called “Obamacare” than they are cutting spending elsewhere in the budget and following through on their promise to balance the budget within a decade.
That’s because the annual congressional budget measure by itself does nothing unless followed up by binding legislation to cut spending and set agency operating budgets. The budget measure also allows majority Republicans advance a special fast-track budget bill to Obama without the threat of a Democratic filibuster.
Republicans plan to use the special filibuster-proof bill to wage an assault on Obama’s Affordable Care Act rather than try to impose a variety of painful cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, student loans and other so-called mandatory programs over Obama’s opposition.
“If they actually had to implement their budget, almost no Republican would vote for it,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
The final agreement says any subsequent filibuster-proof budget bill is to be used for “the sole purpose of repealing the President’s job-killing health care law.” That bill is slated to advance in late July.
The measure also drops a controversial House proposal to radically overhaul the Medicare program by transforming it into a “premium support” plan that would save significant money in future years by subsidizing purchases of private health insurance on the open market. The new plan would start in 2024 and would cover a smaller share of retirees’ health costs as time goes on, which has drawn fierce opposition from Democrats and has unnerved Republican senators up for re-election in swing states.
Instead, the final compromise endorses about $430 billion in cuts to Medicare over the coming decade, matching the total sought in Obama’s budget, which proposed savings from a variety of health care providers.
Meanwhile, the House took up the veterans bill, the first of 12 agency spending bills for the budget year beginning in October. The measure awards generous increases to the troubled VA, but falls short of Obama’s budget request. That has both Democrats and GOP-friendly veterans groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars blasting the measure, which usually enjoys sweeping bipartisan support.
The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto the measure because Republicans are moving to pump almost $40 billion into the Pentagon while failing to ease automatic spending cuts known as sequestration for domestic agencies.