WASHINGTON – Republicans maneuvered their controversial budget proposal through the House by a vote of 235-193 on Friday, firing the first salvo in what's likely to be a long battle over how to reduce the federal deficit.
Four Republicans voted against it, and not a single Democrat voted for it. It now goes to the Democratic-led Senate, where it's viewed as a nonstarter.
The plan, introduced last week by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), cuts trillions in spending while lowering tax rates for corporations and high income earners. It privatizes Medicare over ten years and provides vouchers for Americans currently under 55 to buy private insurance when they turn 65. It also turns Medicaid into a program of block-grants for states while dramatically reducing its payouts.
"The House Republican budget is an honest, fact-based proposal that details our vision for managing down our debt – and growing our way back to prosperity," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on the floor. "With this budget, House Republicans are changing the culture in Washington from one of spending to one of savings, finally America will see that it can get its fiscal house in order after years of mismanagement."
Democrats have embarked on a media blitz excoriating Ryan's proposal, portraying it as one that boosts the financial fortunes of millionaires while gutting the safety net for seniors.
"The Republican plan to end Medicare and immediately raise prescription drug costs for seniors in order to pay for millionaire tax breaks will never pass the Senate," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said after the vote. "The fact that it passed the House shows just how far to the right the Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party."
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the measure would eliminate the deficit by 2040. It would also increase health care costs for seniors, making them pay an average of 68 percent of their medical expenses by 2030, up from 25 to 30 percent projected under current law.
President Barack Obama spoke out forcefully against the plan Wednesday, offering his own blueprint to cut federal spending that raises taxes on the rich while protecting Medicare and Medicaid.
"It's a vision that says America can't afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors," Obama said of the GOP budget. "Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it."
In a Washington Post op-ed Thursday, Ryan defended his proposal.
"Our budget offers a compassionate and optimistic contrast to a future of health-care rationing and unbearably high taxes," he wrote. "We lift the crushing burden of debt, repair the safety net, make America's tax system fair and competitive, and ensure that our health and retirement programs have a strong and lasting future."