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By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans released a 2016 spending blueprint Tuesday that fulfills the GOP goal of balancing the budget within 10 years, but only by slashing Medicare and other safety net programs, while dramatically boosting military spending.

The annual budget, at $3.8 trillion this year, revisits the GOP’s past ideas for shrinking government — including its signature proposal for overhauling Medicare with a voucher-like private insurance option.

Far from a political rallying cry for Republicans, though, this year’s budget promises to split the party, making passage uncertain. GOP defense hawks want to bolster Pentagon spending while deficit watchers prefer reductions across the board.

In the Senate, Republicans are taking a different approach to military spending, and have been reluctant to embrace the reductions in safety net programs.

“We do not rely on gimmicks or creative accounting tricks to balance our budget,” said House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-GA). “We do it the old fashioned way – we make sure the programs we fund serve the priorities of the American people in a more efficient and effective manner, and reduce spending where that is not the case.”

The budget does not carry the force of law, but its passage opens the door for a procedural process that could allow the GOP-led Congress to approve other bills with a simple majority vote, avoiding Democratic filibusters in the Senate. That could be the GOP’s best chance to push controversial bills to confront President Barack Obama.

But if Republicans are unable to unite around a budget, their hopes of repealing the Affordable Care Act or challenging other Obama administration priorities may be lost.

Democrats largely oppose the GOP’s approach to budgeting, preferring tax hikes on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay for spending increases.

The House Republicans’ budget would hike defense spending by $387 billion over the decade. It cuts non-defense accounts by almost twice as much, all while promising lower taxes for individuals and corporations.

House Republicans also revived their proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher-like private system by 2024, overhauling the popular senior health care program. That would mean changes for those who are now in their mid-50s and younger.

The House GOP plan would fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, as well as its Medicaid expansion.

The Republicans would keep to the so-called sequester cuts, the deep reductions that both parties agreed to in 2011. Those cut are expected to hit in full force at the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1.

But the House GOP plan would boost military funds through a separate account for overseas contingency operations that had been used to fund the wars against terror.

Some Republicans call this a gimmick, and the Senate GOP is likely to take a different approach to Pentagon funding by establishing a new reserve fund that could increase the military by reducing spending elsewhere.

Photo: Speaker Boehner via Flickr

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