WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans and Democrats on a key House panel squared off Wednesday over a controversial GOP budget plan to sharply cut federal health care spending and safety-net programs like food stamps as the chief means to wrestle trillion-dollar-plus deficits under control.
The GOP plan is nonbinding but calls for repealing President Barack Obama’s health care plan while transforming Medicare into a voucher-like system in which the government subsidizes purchases of health insurance on the private market instead of directly paying doctor and hospital bills.
The Medicare proposal won’t be the subject of follow-up legislation under the arcane budget process on Capitol Hill. Nor do Republicans plan to pass a detailed proposal to reform the nation’s complicated, loophole-ridden tax code this year.
But other elements of the measure are likely to advance this spring — at least in the GOP-dominated House — as a 10-year, $261 billion package of cuts to replace deep, across-the-board spending cuts slated to hit the Pentagon and domestic agencies in January. Those cuts were required under last year’s budget pact because of the failure of the deficit “supercommittee” last fall.
This spring’s substitute cuts are likely to target, among other programs, food stamps, federal employee pensions, farm subsidies, and a proposal to require higher-income Medicare beneficiaries to pay higher premiums. Some of those ideas have been marched through the House before, only to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, though the agriculture and food stamp cuts haven’t — and may prove troublesome.
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The Democratic-controlled Senate has no plans for a companion measure.
The budget measure also would force new austerity on an upcoming round of funding bills for domestic agencies, breaking faith with spending limits carefully negotiated with Obama and Senate Democrats just last summer.
A Budget panel vote on the broader GOP budget measure is coming Wednesday night with a vote by the full House expected next week.
Democrats say the GOP budget’s Medicare proposal would dump a steadily increasing share of health care costs on future retirees forced into the new system, starting in 10 years. And they decried sharp cuts to food stamps, school lunches, welfare, Pell Grants, transportation and education.
Republicans praised the plan for taking on deficits that threaten to swamp the economy if left unchecked, while Democrats assaulted it for awarding big tax cuts for the wealthy and forcing seniors to pay a far larger share of their health care costs.
Top Budget panel Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland warned that the measure would indiscriminately slash spending while delivering tax increases to the wealthy.
“The choices made in the Republican budget are simply wrong for America,” Van Hollen said. “It is not bold to provide tax breaks to millionaires while ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors and sticking seniors with the bill for rising health care costs.”