Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — In a prelude to a summer showdown with President Barack Obama, Republicans controlling the House pushed to passage on Friday a bold but politically dangerous budget blueprint to slash social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid and fundamentally restructure Medicare health care for the elderly.
The nonbinding plan lays out a fiscal vision cutting $6.2 trillion from yearly federal deficits over the coming decade and calls for transforming Medicare from a program in which the government directly pays medical bills into a voucher-like system that subsidizes purchases of private insurance plans
The GOP budget passed 235-193 with every Democrat voting "no." Obama said in an Associated Press interview that it would "make Medicare into a voucher program. That's something that we strongly object to."
The vote sets up the Republicans' next round of confrontation with Obama and Democrats over must-pass legislation to allow the government to borrow more money to finance its operations and obligations to holders of U.S. bonds. For the first time, Obama acknowledged that raising the debt limit is "not going to happen without some spending cuts" insisted upon by Republicans and some Democrats.
Under the House Republican plan approved Friday, deficits requiring the federal government to borrow more than 40 cents for every dollar it spends would be cut by the end of the decade to 8 cents of borrowing for every dollar spent.
"If the president won't lead, we will," Boehner said as he closed debate. "No more kicking the can down the road, no more whistling past the graveyard. Now is the time to address the serious challenges that face the American people and we will."
Obama saw the situation differently. In the AP interview, he said the Republicans' "pessimistic vision ... says that America can no longer do some of the big things that made us great, that made us the envy of the world."
The plan by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., exposes Republicans to political risk. Its Medicare proposal would give people presently 54 or younger health insurance subsidies that would steadily lose value over time — even as current beneficiaries and people 55 and older would stay in the current system.
The budget measure is nonbinding but lays out a vision to fundamentally reshape government benefit programs for the poor and elderly, programs whose spiraling costs threaten to crowd out other spending and produce a crippling debt burden that could put a major drag on the economy in the future.
"Which future do you want your children to have? One where the debt gets so large it crushes the economy and gives them a diminished future?" Ryan asked. "Or this budget ... that literally not only gets us on the way to balancing the budget but pays off our debt?"
The GOP's solution to unsustainable deficits is to relentlessly attack the spending side of the ledger while leaving Bush-era tax cuts intact. It calls for tax changes that would lower the top income tax rates for corporations and individuals by cleaning out a tax code cluttered with tax breaks and preferences, but it parts company with Obama and the findings of a bipartisan deficit commission, which proposed devoting about $100 billion a year in new revenue to easing the deficit.
Democrats and many budget experts say this spending-cuts-only approach is fundamentally unbalanced, targeting social safety net programs like Medicaid and food stamps while leaving in place a tax system they say bestows too many benefits on the wealthy. The GOP blueprint would cut almost $800 million from the federal-state Medicaid program — which provides health care to the poor and disabled and pays for nursing home care for millions of indigent senior citizens — into a block grant program run by the states.
Republicans counter that low taxes and spending cuts would unleash capital into the economy and put it on firm footing — and avoid a European-style debt crisis that could force far harsher steps.
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