WASHINGTON – A battle between GOP defence hawks and fiscal conservatives prompted the GOP chairman of the House Budget Committee late Wednesday to delay a vote on his party’s budget blueprint.
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., called off a vote on a move by GOP leaders to loosen restrictions on using war funding to skirt tight limits on the Pentagon budget. That delays a vote on the underlying budget, which would set up a veto struggle over the fate of the health care law and promises a whopping $5 trillion in spending cuts to erase deficits by the end of the coming decade.
Billions more for the Pentagon were Republican priorities in both House and Senate, but pushback from fiscal conservatives against spending increases appeared to force Price’s hand.
At the same time, there were significant differences between the day-old proposal in the House and the one unveiled Wednesday by Senate Republicans.
Defence spending aside, Medicare was chief among them. Senate Republicans, already eying the 2016 elections, balked at a politically sensitive House plan to turn health care coverage for seniors into a voucher-like program for those who enrol beginning in 2024.
Republicans claimed a balanced-budget, no-tax-increase approach as the House Budget Committee adopted their measure on a party-line. The Senate Budget panel was set to convene Thursday morning with a vote planned for the afternoon.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the Republicans promise a plan “that will support economic growth and more opportunity for hardworking families, while protecting our most vulnerable citizens.”
By contrast, McConnell said President Barack Obama’s budget from earlier in the year raised “taxes by nearly $2 trillion, and increased the national debt by more than $7 trillion. In other words, it was more of the same old tired, failed policies of the past.”
Obama leaned in.
Claiming credit for the improving economy, he said Republicans offer “a path to prosperity for those who have already prospered.” Reprising a criticism he levelled in his winning 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney, he said in Cleveland that the GOP budget “doubles down on trickle-down.”
It will be weeks or months — if then — before Republicans can turn their non-binding blueprints into legislation and send it to the White House for Obama’s signature or veto.
Before that, they will concentrate on pushing the rival budgets through the two houses. Next, they will try to agree on a compromise that they concede will stand as a test of their ability to govern.
Republicans promised during last fall’s campaign they would try to balance the budget if they won power. They also said over and over they would work to eradicate the health care law that Obama has pledged to defend and the administration now says has provided coverage to more than 16 million individuals who previously lacked it.
Details contained inside the budgets make a veto struggle with Obama over the health care law a virtual certainty, although the Supreme Court could largely render that moot in a ruling is expected this spring on the constitutionality of a key portion of it. Senate Republicans said they intend to use legislation that Democrats cannot block to accomplish their goal of repeal.
Both budgets envision a significant campaign to cut spending, with much of the projected savings coming from Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and welfare.
Defence spending remained a work in progress. The House proposal, if amended as pro-Pentagon members would like, recommended hiking existing funding by $38 billion next year along the lines of Obama’s February budget. Parliamentary tangles blocked them from simply increasing core Pentagon accounts like Obama proposed; instead they pad an overseas account that has financed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As drafted, the Senate budget recommended the same total as Obama, although defence hawks including Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., worked behind the scenes to engineer a rewrite that would raise it to roughly the same level as the House and Obama.
Both Republicans and the White House have indicated they would like to ease cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies both for the next couple of years and replace them with longer-term cuts and, perhaps, new revenues, much as was the case in 2013.
To achieve their core campaign commitment, Republicans in both houses resorted to a series of sleights of hand.
Both budgets assume that dozens of popular tax breaks will be allowed to expire. One allows businesses to offset the cost of research and development, and another allows individuals and families to deduct the cost of sales tax in states with no income tax. Together, the cost of renewing all of them totals $900 billion, money not in either budget.
Both budgets also estimate large savings from the economic benefit of implementation of their spending proposals — $164 billion over a decade in the Senate, $147 billion for the House.
Without these amounts, the Senate budget would be unable to show even its minuscule $3 billion surplus for 2025, or the House its $46 billion in black ink in 2024 and 2025 combined.
In addition, the Senate budget offers no explanation for a sudden $191 billion jump in savings from benefit programs in 2025
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.