The Republican-led House passed Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 Friday, a measure that Republicans say would cut $5 trillion dollars over the next 10 years, make Medicare a voucher-based program and provide block grants to states to implement Medicaid.
The bill passed 235-193 with four Republicans, Ron Paul of Texas, Denny Rehberg of Montana, Walter Jones of North Carolina and David McKinnley of West Virginia, voting against it. No Democrats supported the measure.
Fresh from a battle field over how to continue government funding through the current fiscal year, the GOP plan sets the stage for a new debate over long-term spending goals that is expected carry on for at least the next six months. It is still unclear whether both parties — which have widely different views over how the government should function and be paid for — will reach any type of long-term agreement before the September 30 deadline, or if they will be forced to continue funding the government through short-term stop gap resolution.
Senate Democrats ruled out the plan early as a non-starter and President Obama on Wednesday delivered a national address to outline his own proposal for deficit reduction to counter Ryan’s budget. Obama’s plan, which critics dubbed as a “re-do” of the official budget he submitted two months ago and tried to sell at this year’s State of the Union Address, would balance spending cuts with tax increases.
As New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer suggested this week, the battle ahead outweighs disagreements about dollars and cents.
“The debate ahead of us is about more than spending levels, it is about the role of government itself,” Schumer said Thursday. “We urge the House Republicans to go back to the drawing board and come up with a fairer proposal than the Ryan budget. No plan to end Medicare as we know it will ever pass the Senate.”
Just as Democrats gave the Republican plan a swift shove off the table, Republican leaders said there was no way they would accept the higher tax rates the president called for. House Speaker John Boehner even suggested Thursday that the president was bluffing. When a reporter pointed out Obama’s declaration that he would not extend the Bush-era tax rates another time, Boehner responded: “I heard that a year go, but he did.”
Also on the floor Friday were a handful of substitute budgets submitted by other groups within the House. The chamber rejected proposals from the Congressional Black Caucus, The Progressive Caucus, the Democratic House leadership and the Republican Study Committee.
At least one of the votes was not, however, without some classic last-minute congressional drama. In the middle of the vote on the RSC budget — which cuts even more from the federal budget than Ryan’s plan that the party leadership has endorsed — 172 Democrats switched their “no” votes to “present” in an effort to trick Republicans into passing the alternative proposal through.
“Democrats, vote present!” shouted Minority Whip Steny Hoyer over the noise of the room, prompting his caucus to pull the switch on the trap, which Democratic leaders had secretly planned the morning of the vote.
Republicans who voted “yes” on the plan quickly were forced to switch to “no” so the bill wouldn’t pass.
Had it worked, the procedural maneuver would have been embarrassing to the GOP, who are standing behind Ryan’s budget.
The House passed Ryan’s budget — and only Ryan’s budget — a few hours later.
Although Congress traditionally has its budget prepared by this time of the year, it is certain that nothing will be agreed to any time soon. Most senators caught the first flight out of DC Thursday afternoon to begin a two-week recess for Passover and Easter, and House members are not far behind, jetting toward their districts with the conclusion of their chamber’s session on Friday. Congress will return May 2nd to begin the debate over whether to raise the nation’s $14 trillion debt ceiling and continue negotiations over the budget.