GOP bud­get pro­posal clears di­vided panel

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - AN­DREW TAY­LOR

WASH­ING­TON — A key House panel worked into the night Wednes­day and ap­proved a Re­pub­li­can fis­cal plan that would slash safety-net pro­grams while boost­ing mil­i­tary fund­ing by bil­lions.

The Bud­get Com­mit­tee plan, en­dorsed by a party­line 22-14 vote, would pave the way for Repub­li­cans to over­haul the tax code, a top pri­or­ity of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Pass­ing a bud­get through Congress is the only way to get a GOP-only tax plan en­acted this year.

But the bud­get out­line faces op­po­si­tion from both wings of the party. Re­pub­li­can con­ser­va­tives want more of its pro­posed cuts to ac­tu­ally take ef­fect, while mod­er­ates want to fo­cus on a tax over­haul rather than cuts to ben­e­fit pro­grams such as food stamps.

The non­bind­ing GOP plan prom­ises to cut more than $5 tril­lion from the bud­get over the com­ing decade, though Repub­li­cans only ap­pear se­ri­ous about en­act­ing a rel­a­tively mod­est $203 bil­lion deficit cut over the same pe­riod through fil­i­buster-proof, fol­low-up leg­is­la­tion.

Repub­li­cans ar­gue that grow­ing deficits and debt are part of the rea­son for slow eco­nomic growth and that big ben­e­fit plans like Medi­care and Med­i­caid need changes now to keep them from go­ing broke for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“Both par­ties in Wash­ing­ton have failed to abide by a sim­ple prin­ci­ple that all Amer­i­can fam­i­lies and small busi­nesses do — that we must live within our means,” said Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Diane Black, R-Tenn. “Bal­anc­ing the bud­get re­quires us to make tough choices, but the con­se­quences of in­ac­tion far out­weigh any po­lit­i­cal risks we may face.”

But Democrats blasted the sweep­ing cuts in the plan. It reprises a provoca­tive pro­posal — op­posed by Trump — to turn Medi­care into a voucher­like pro­gram for fu­ture re­tirees. Ex­perts say that change would likely in­crease costs for ben­e­fi­cia­ries and deny them the cov­er­age guar­an­tees of Medi­care.

“The list of up­side-down pri­or­i­ties and ir­re­spon­si­ble poli­cies in this doc­u­ment is lengthy,” said top panel Demo­crat John Yar­muth of Ken­tucky. “Democrats sup­port in­vest­ments in ed­u­ca­tion, health care, na­tional se­cu­rity, job train­ing, in­no­va­tion and in­fra­struc­ture. We sup­port pro­grams that help in­di­vid­u­als with nowhere left to turn, and a tax code that helps fam­i­lies get ahead.”

The plan at last ap­peared set to ease through the GOP-con­trolled panel, which is stocked with hard-core con­ser­va­tives, some of whom said the mea­sure is too loose on spend­ing. Rep. Glenn Groth­man, R-Wis., faulted the mea­sure for a $28 bil­lion in­crease above Trump’s bud­get for de­fense and for re­ject­ing most of Trump’s pro­posed $54 bil­lion cut to do­mes­tic pro­grams for next year.

The mea­sure faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture, since it’s caught be­tween mod­er­ates un­happy that it would link a 10-year, $203 bil­lion pack­age of spend­ing cuts to the up­com­ing tax over­haul ef­fort. On the other side are con­ser­va­tives press­ing for a larger pack­age of spend­ing cuts to ac­com­pany this fall’s tax bill.

While ex­empt­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity, vet­er­ans and de­fense from cuts, the plan pro­poses trims across the rest of the bud­get to turn this year’s pro­jected $700 bil­lion-or-so deficit into a $9 bil­lion sur­plus by 2027. It would do so by slash­ing $5.4 tril­lion over the com­ing decade, in­clud­ing al­most $500 bil­lion from Medi­care and $1.5 tril­lion from Med­i­caid and the Pres­i­dent Barack Obama-era health law. The plan calls for a 10-year, $150 bil­lion cut to food stamps, though the Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee would be di­rected to come up with no more than $10 bil­lion.

It also cuts far more sharply than prior GOP plans from non­health ben­e­fit pro­grams such as fed­eral em­ployee pen­sions, food stamps and tax cred­its for the work­ing poor.

It also con­tains its share of gim­micks, in­clud­ing $1.8 tril­lion in deficit cuts over the com­ing decade from rosy pro­jec­tions of eco­nomic growth av­er­ag­ing 2.6 per­cent over 10 years. An­other $700 bil­lion in sav­ings would come from a crack­down on “im­proper pay­ments” such as tax cred­its and So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care ben­e­fits go­ing to peo­ple to don’t qual­ify for them. Many of its cuts are un­spec­i­fied.

But in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture the GOP mea­sure is a bud­get buster. It would add al­most $30 bil­lion to Trump’s $668 bil­lion re­quest for na­tional de­fense.

AP/MANUEL BALCE CENETA

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., con­fers with a fel­low law­maker dur­ing a hear­ing on the fis­cal-2018 bud­get Wednes­day on Capi­tol Hill.

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