Ryan's Resilience

House GOP budget overcomes hurdles on way to passage

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March 28, 2012

UPDATE (9:56 p.m.): After moving up a series of votes scheduled for Thursday, the House voted late Wednesday to reject Rep. LaTourette’s proposal by a 382-38 margin.

Sixteen Republicans voted yes, along with 22 Democrats.

President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal—the most expensive of its kind in United States history—was also put to a vote.

It failed 414-0.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday is expected to approve—for the second straight year—an audacious budget resolution authored by House budget chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.).

Just like last year’s plan, Ryan’s fiscal year 2013 budget has been challenged and criticized. And once again, Ryan is poised to triumph over his detractors.

The House will also consider a number of alternative budget proposals—from Democratic members, as well as from conservative and centrist Republicans. Only Ryan’s plan is expected to pass.

Democrats have been strident in their criticism of Ryan’s proposals, especially with respect to health care, comparing the proposals to Hurricane Katrina, "a tornado tearing through America’s nursing homes," and "literally a death trap for seniors." Liberal groups have run ads depicting Ryan throwing an elderly woman off a cliff.

Ryan’s plan to transition Medicare to a free-market-oriented "premium support" system has a history of bipartisan support dating back to the Clinton administration. However, Democrats have accused Republicans of seeking to "end Medicare," a charge the fact-checking website PolitiFact deemed "Lie of the Year" in 2011.

This year, Ryan has included an updated and more politically viable version of his Medicare reform modeled on the bipartisan plan he co-authored with Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.).

No Democrats are expected to support Ryan’s latest budget offering and the Republican chairman has had to win over members from the disparate wings of his own party, who will offer competing proposals to his plan during Thursday’s round of votes.

One of those alternatives is a plan modeled on the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, which has drawn the support of a handful of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.

Sponsoring Reps. Steven LaTourette (R., Ohio) and Jim Cooper (D., Tenn.) have argued that their plan transcends partisan divisions and has the best chance of actually being signed into law. Like Bowles-Simpson, they advocate a "balanced approach," that would raise taxes by about $1.5 trillion over the next decade in additional to considerable spending cuts.

"I'm tired of passing bills in the House, watching them die in the Senate and pretending that counts as success," LaTourette said in a statement. "Americans want us to work together like adults, pass a budget with bipartisan support in both Houses and have it signed into law."

That seems unlikely to happen, for several reasons. Despite ordering the creation of the Bowles-Simpson commission, President Obama has declined to formally endorse its recommendations.

And LaTourette was skeptical that many Democrats would support his proposal.

"I think some of the higher-ups in the Democratic Party are very much looking forward to beating us like baby seals over the Medicare thing in the Ryan budget and they don't want to lose that message," he said.

If supporters of the plan fail to accumulate a "respectable number" of votes, they may pull the plug themselves.

The biggest failing of the Cooper-LaTourette alternative, critics argue, is that it doesn’t address spending on entitlements like Medicare, and leaves intact the president’s controversial health care law.

"There was bipartisan opposition to the health care bill’s passage, and now some people are trying to get bipartisan support for leaving the architecture of the law in place," one GOP aide told the Washington Free Beacon. "Is this really the compromise that Republicans want to get behind?"

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said that while the Cooper-LaTourette proposal is not a terrible plan, it is certainly not preferable to the Ryan budget.

"I think it’s a good sign for the overall fiscal sanity of the United States that somebody is picking up a plan the president kicked into the gutter," he said. "But it is so weak in taking on health care spending, which has always been the Achilles heel [of Bowles-Simpson]."

Ryan echoed that sentiment.

"I applaud my colleagues for working in a bipartisan manner in an effort to address Washington’s fiscal crisis," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the proposal fails to confront the key driver of the debt: the explosive growth of government spending on health care. The president’s health care overhaul, further entrenched by this proposal, remains a partisan roadblock to bipartisan patient-centered reforms."

Keeping Obamacare in place would increase spending by about $1.6 trillion relative to Ryan’s budget, which repeals the health care law altogether.

Instead of meaningfully reforming Medicare—by far the biggest driver of the national debt—the proposal modeled on Bowles-Simpson would rely on the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a component of the new health care law under which 15 political appointees would be given sweeping powers to control Medicare costs.

Ryan has sought to convince those Republicans who may find Bowles-Simpson appealing that a proposal that enshrines the president’s health care law and does not fundamentally alter the trajectory of entitlement spending will not solve the country’s fiscal crisis.

"You can raise taxes and you can slash spending and you can balance the budget tomorrow, but if you don’t deal with health care spending, we’ll be in the same situation five years from now," said the Republican aide. "You need to change that trajectory if you are going to reassure financial markets that you have a credible solution."

Yuval Levin, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told the Free Beacon he doubted many Republicans would ultimately support the proposal.

"The politics of Bowles-Simpson is probably worse than Ryan," he said. "It raises taxes, it does a lot more on Social Security, and the defense cuts are pretty unpopular."

On the other side of the GOP spectrum, frustrated conservative members have voiced concern that Ryan’s budget does not go far enough to reign in federal spending.

"It’s not the big leap America so desperately needs," said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.), who voted against Ryan’s plan as a member of the Budget Committee, along with Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.).

Conservative members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) will introduce an alternative budget on Thursday that cuts federal spending beyond Ryan’s proposed $6.2 trillion over 10 years.

"Obviously a lot of us thought we could do better," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R., N.J.), member of the budget committee who voted for Ryan’s plan, at a press conference unveiling the RSC budget.

Ryan’s plan is far more moderate. The steep cuts to Medicaid and non-defense discretionary spending in the RSC budget are simply too severe to win the support of more moderate Republicans, notes an aide.

RSC spokesman Brian Straessle disputed the charge that the group's plan "cuts" Medicaid.

"For the record, the RSC budget does not cut Medicaid by a single penny," he wrote in an email. "We keep funding at current levels while giving the states the tools and flexibility to better help people who really need it."

The key for Republicans will be to rally behind a credible document, which they can then effectively contrast with the proposal offered by President Obama.

Additionally, Republicans plan to continue to hammer Senate Democrats for failing to even introduce a budget in nearly three years.

"We do not need to bring a budget to the floor this year," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) told reporters in February. He has previously said that doing so would be "foolish."

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) previewed the GOP message in a web video released ahead of Thursday’s vote.

"Ours is the only responsible budget in town," he said. "Unfortunately we’re again waiting for leadership from the Democrats who run Washington."