US Repub­li­cans claim ac­tion on gov­ern­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY STEVEN R. HURST

Two im­por­tant is­sues con­cern­ing how the gov­ern­ment spends tax­payer money have made progress in the U.S. Congress, a break from years of leg­isla­tive dys­func­tion and grid­lock.

For the right-wing Republcan Party, it is proof it can gov­ern now that they con­trol both cham­bers of Congress, fol­low­ing their sweep in Novem­ber’s elec­tions. But more con­tentious is­sues lie ahead, and last week’s con­gres­sional ac­tions are far from a guar­an­tee that the Repub­li­cans will, in fact, be­come a leg­isla­tive dy­namo.

Whether they suc­ceed could be im­por­tant go­ing into the 2016 elec­tions, when Repub­li­cans hope to cap­ture the White House and de­fend their slim ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate. Repub­li­cans have stood united in op­pos­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and his cen­ter-left Demo­cratic Party’s poli­cies. But they have been less clear or united on ad­vanc­ing al­ter­na­tives. That shows es­pe­cially in re­peated Repub­li­can ef­forts to re­peal Obama’s health care over­haul.

For now, Repub­li­cans claim they are living up to their prom­ises, point­ing to move­ment on a bud­get and a fix to Medi­care, the gov­ern­ment health care plan for Amer­i­cans at age 65.

The adopted bud­get lays out a plan for spend­ing in the com­ing fis­cal year and an out­line of fis­cal ex­pec­ta­tions for the next decade. That broke with re­cent his­tory, when Democrats, who had the Se­nate ma­jor­ity be­fore the last elec­tion, did not even take up bud­get votes. Bud­gets put for­ward by Congress and the pres­i­dent are highly ide­o­log­i­cal po­lit­i­cal doc­u­ments and do not have the force of law. Real spend­ing de­ci­sions are made later with spe­cific ap­pro­pri­a­tions by Congress for the var­i­ous gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

Medi­care Bill

Of greater sig­nif­i­cance last week was bi­par­ti­san agree­ment in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Medi­care. The bill was passed over­whelm­ingly in the House and will be taken up and passed quickly in the Se­nate af­ter the two-week Easter re­cess.

The mea­sure’s chief goal is to re­place a 1997 bud­get-cut­ting law that tied doc­tors’ Medi­care fees to over­all eco­nomic growth. With med­i­cal costs fast out­pac­ing eco­nomic growth, that for­mula has threat­ened deep re­im­burse­ment cuts that law­mak­ers have blocked on an emer­gency ba­sis 17 times since 2002, a rit­ual both par­ties wanted to end.

“I want to give John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi credit,” said Obama, who promised to sign the mea­sure into law. “They did good work to­day.” Boehner is speaker of the House, leader of the cham­ber that has been in Repub­li­can hands since tak­ing the ma­jor­ity in the 2010 elec­tion. Demo­crat Pelosi pre­ceded Boehner as speaker.

The Medi­care bill also con­tains funds for health care pro­grams for chil­dren and low-in­come peo­ple that Democrats said were vic­to­ries for them. Repub­li­cans won longterm through mod­est strength­en­ing of Medi­care’s fi­nances, in­clud­ing cost in­creases re­cip­i­ents.

Buoyed by such in­cen­tives, House mem­bers more ac­cus­tomed to grid­lock found them­selves with lit­tle to ar­gue about.

“I just want to say to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, don’t look now but we’re ac­tu­ally gov­ern­ing,” said Repub­li­can Rep. Re­nee Ellmers.

Pas­sage of the Medi­care bill and con­gres­sional bud­gets con­trast sharply with the Repub­li­cans’ first months in con­trol of both cham­bers of Congress. Early leg­isla­tive ac­tion was marked by high-pro­file stum­bles and a near-shut­down of the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment.

And the sym­bolic Repub­li­can bud­get blue­print di­verges starkly from Obama’s fis­cal plan, a fore­shad­ow­ing of bit­ter fights to come as spend­ing mea­sures are drawn up.

Obama’s plan leaves a pro­jected deficit ex­ceed­ing US$600 bil­lion 10 years from now. The Se­nate plan claims a sur­plus of US$3 bil­lion.

Over the decade, Obama would raise US$2 tril­lion in higher taxes from the wealthy, cor­po­ra­tions and smok­ers while grant­ing tax breaks to low-in­come and mid­dle-class fam­i­lies. He would boost spend­ing on do­mes­tic pro­grams in­clud­ing road con­struc­tion, preschools and com­mu­nity col­leges and vet­er­ans.

The Se­nate bud­get would cut US$4.3 tril­lion from ben­e­fit pro­grams over the next 10 years, in­clud­ing yet an­other bid to an­nul Obama’s health care law. Se­nate Democrats would block any ef­fort to re­peal the law, and, should they fail, the pres­i­dent would be cer­tain to veto the mea­sure.

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higher-in­come

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