The Republican Congressional leadership pushed their $3.5 trillion federal budget – including massive program cuts and a plan to privatize Medicare – through the House of Representatives on a party-line vote Thursday afternoon. While the Republican plan is sure to be killed in the Senate, where Democrats maintain control, the so-called Ryan budget, named for House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), serves as an election-year marker in the partisan debate over spending, taxes, and deficits.
“We think America is on the wrong track,” said Ryan, a rising GOP star sometimes mentioned as a vice presidential nominee. “We think the president is bringing us to a debt crisis and a welfare state in decline.”
Retorted Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): “The more people know about that budget, the more people know it hurts them in their lives.”
Opposing the Obama administration’s proposals to raise rates on the country’s wealthiest taxpayers as well as on the oil industry, the Ryan budget would instead reduce taxes roughly $400,000 a year on those earning $1 million plus annually – by extending the Bush tax cuts, establishing a new and lower top rate of 25 percent, and repealing tax increases in health care reform. Although Ryan has often stated that these revenue losses would be compensated by closing tax loopholes and preferences, none are specified in the budget passed today.
“In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the nonpartisan and progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, whose studies are widely respected on both sides of the aisle. “It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history). “
What the Ryan budget does outline clearly — as Greenstein’s analysts have noted — is the Republican plan to end Medicare as a guaranteed safety net for all seniors while transforming it into a voucher system that will provide less coverage at higher cost. By raising Medicare’s eligibility age from 65 to 67, the plan will create a new “donut hole” that leaves thousands of seniors without affordable coverage of any kind. And although the Republican plan claims to preserve traditional Medicare as an option, its provisions would encourage private insurers to pull in healthier beneficiaries while leaving those who are sicker and more expensive to insure in the government program.
The Ryan budget proposes overall spending cuts of $5.3 trillion over the coming decade, eliminating or reducing transportation improvements, education assistance, scientific research and a host of other programs. The Republicans do not explain how roads, bridges, and airports will be repaired, how the American workforce will compete with those educated in competing countries, or the effects of foregoing scientific and technological advances achieved by subsidized research. The ultimate result, as a recent Congressional Budget Office report indicated, may well be an America diminished beyond recognition – without actually achieving a balanced budget in the next two decades.