Washington – The House of Representatives, on a largely party line vote, Friday approved a Republican vision of America's future that would change how seniors and lower income people get health coverage, lower taxes for the wealthy and dramatically cut federal spending.
The vote for the plan was 235 to 193. All the yes votes were Republican, but four GOP lawmakers joined 189 Democrats in opposition. The budget now goes to the Democratic-run Senate, where it's expected to go nowhere.
The budget blueprint will survive, though, as the GOP's chief line in the fiscal sand as the 2012 political campaign unfolds. This budget, most Republican lawmakers said with their votes, is where we stand, and it's a sharp contrast to vision offered by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
The Republican plan would cut $4.4 trillion from anticipated deficits over 10 years. Obama would cut $4 trillion over 12 years.
Both sides touted their views as politically beneficial — and, they said, devastating to their opponents.
“We have too many politicians worried about the next election and not worried about the next generation,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the GOP plan's chief architect. “To govern is to choose.”
Most politically vulnerable are the House's 87 Republican freshmen, many elected with the backing of the conservative tea party movement, which has called for deep spending reductions.
The freshmen were largely unfazed. “This is a defining moment for this generation. This Congress has the courage to go forward and be bold, and we're doing it even at the risk of our own political future,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa. “But this is what I came here to do.”
It's not what Democrats came to Washington to do, countered Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
“We all know that to govern is to choose, and the choices made in the Republican budget are wrong for America,” he said. “It is not courageous to provide additional tax breaks for millionaires while ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors and sticking seniors with the cost of the rising health care.”
The political jockeying will continue next week, as lawmakers are home for a two-week spring recess. Obama will also hit the road, holding town hall meetings in Virginia, Nevada, and at Facebook's headquarters in California, targeting voters in swing and donor states, as well as young, tech-savvy voters.
The Republican plan would lower taxes for the wealthy. Supporters believe that the more money winds up in private hands, the more people will invest and create jobs. Democrats want the government to more actively provide opportunity by investing more in education, infrastructure and other programs, as well as providing a strong social safety net.
Republicans want to lower top individual and corporate tax rates, now 35 percent, to 25 percent. Democrats want to end the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, which expire at the end of next year, and restore the top rates of 36 and 39.6 percent.
Republicans seek to change Medicare, the health insurance program for seniors and some disabled, so that people retiring after 2021 get federal payments to help them buy coverage.
Democrats want to preserve the current system, which covered 46.3 million people in 2009, but find ways to cut costs. The 2010 health care law is projected to ease Medicare's shaky finances, but the program's trustees still found its hospital insurance trust fund “still fails the test of short-range financial adequacy” over the next 10 years.
On spending, Republicans would reduce non-security discretionary spending, generally programs involving education, community services, labor and others, below 2008 levels, which would mean drastic cuts.
Obama would use a “debt failsafe” to force across the board spending cuts if debt has not been reduced to certain levels by 2014. The cuts would not affect Social Security, Medicare or programs affecting low-income people.
Democrats were particularly tough on the GOP's Medicare plan. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said its passage would lead to “throwing seniors out of nursing homes….stand up for the middle class today and America's seniors and oppose this budget.”
The Democratic plan lost 259 to 166. Also defeated were budget proposals from the Congressional Black Caucus, liberals and Republican conservatives.
Republicans, realizing they're taking a political gamble by trying to change Medicare, insisted that the program can't continue at its current pace.
“We are united in cutting spending. We are united in promoting growth,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
“And we are united in the fact that we don't believe we should be raising taxes in this tough economy. All of these things set us apart from members in the caucus on the other side of the aisle.”