Paul Ryan Outlines GOP Fiscal Dream in New Budget

But the House Budget Committee chairman’s plan is more of a political rallying point than a realistic plan.

 House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) questions Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf during a hearing in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill February 5, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Billy House and Sarah Mimms
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Billy House Sarah Mimms
April 1, 2014, 6:30 a.m.

Rep. Paul Ry­an re­leased his pro­posed budget for fisc­al 2015 on Tues­day, out­lining a con­ser­vat­ive fisc­al play­book and vis­ion for his party through 2024 that’s go­ing ex­actly nowhere dur­ing this Con­gress — ex­cept to the cam­paign trail.

Car­ry­ing a title “The Path to Prosper­ity,” the doc­u­ment as­serts it would pro­duce 10-year sav­ings of more than $5 tril­lion (about $500 bil­lion more than in Ry­an’s 2014 budget plan) through en­ti­tle­ment re­forms and oth­er policy changes, lead­ing to a sur­plus for the coun­try by 2024 — and would do so des­pite what con­tin­ues to be a lackluster eco­nomy.

Law­makers have already agreed to spend­ing levels for the next fisc­al year, which be­gins Oct. 1, mak­ing Ry­an’s budget un­ne­ces­sary in terms of law. And even some House Re­pub­lic­ans have ques­tioned tak­ing up some of the thorny polit­ic­al is­sues that a de­tailed budget would ad­dress in a midterm-elec­tion year. The Sen­ate has chosen not to do one. And as in pre­vi­ous elec­tion years, the Ry­an budget is likely to be used as a ral­ly­ing point for the Demo­crat­ic base in Novem­ber.

On the oth­er hand, party lead­ers have de­cided that such a doc­u­ment can serve as an out­line or blue­print for Re­pub­lic­ans to dis­tin­guish them­selves from Demo­crats on fisc­al policy and provide in­sight in­to how House Re­pub­lic­ans are po­s­i­tion­ing them­selves head­ing in­to the midterms.

Demo­crats are already try­ing to use the budget for their polit­ic­al gain. Chris Van Hol­len, the top Demo­crat on the House Budget Com­mit­tee, said that “this reck­less Re­pub­lic­an budget casts a dark shad­ow over the Amer­ic­an Dream” and is a “de­clar­a­tion of class war­fare.”

“Stu­dents will see deep cuts to edu­ca­tion. Seni­ors on Medi­care will im­me­di­ately pay more for pre­vent­ive health ser­vices, those with high pre­scrip­tion drugs costs will see prices skyrock­et, and it will mean the end of the cur­rent Medi­care guar­an­tee,” Van Hol­len said in a state­ment.

In ad­di­tion, he said the claim that this Re­pub­lic­an budget bal­ances in 10 years “is simply a fraud.”

“Their budget would not bal­ance without the re­forms and sav­ings we made in the Af­ford­able Care Act, which they have voted to re­peal or un­der­mine more than 50 times and claim to re­peal again in their budget. They can­not have it both ways,” said Van Hol­len.

Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi cast the budget pro­pos­al as one show­ing the lengths Re­pub­lic­ans will go “to pro­tect the spe­cial in­terests at the ex­pense of the pub­lic in­terest.”

In its de­tails, the fisc­al plan re­leased by Ry­an and his Budge Com­mit­tee Tues­day is in many ways a slight al­ter­a­tion of the Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an’s pre­vi­ous pro­pos­als. As in pre­vi­ous budgets, Ry­an makes sig­ni­fic­ant cuts to en­ti­tle­ment spend­ing, calls for work re­quire­ments to be strengthened un­der wel­fare, and pro­poses a block-grant pro­gram for the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram (also known as food stamps) be­gin­ning in 2019.

But Ry­an goes a step fur­ther in his 2015 budget than he did in the deal he worked out with Sen. Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., late last year. The 2015 House budget ad­heres to the caps laid out in the Ry­an-Mur­ray agree­ment, but it also of­fers topline spend­ing fig­ures for a num­ber of de­part­ments and agen­cies, de­term­in­a­tions that are ul­ti­mately up to House and Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee chairs.

Ry­an’s re­com­mend­a­tions may have come a little late in the game in that re­gard, however. Giv­en that they’ve had over­all topline fig­ures since Decem­ber, both Ap­pro­pri­ations com­mit­tees have already be­gun their work of al­loc­at­ing fed­er­al fund­ing for fisc­al 2015.

Sen. Mur­ray dis­missed Ry­an’s pro­pos­al as based on “failed Tea Party policies,” not­ing that a 2015 budget is un­ne­ces­sary in light of her deal with Ry­an last year. “Since our bi­par­tis­an budget deal already set spend­ing levels for fisc­al year 2015, I am hope­ful that this par­tis­an pro­pos­al will be set aside and we can work to­geth­er once again to cre­ate jobs and eco­nom­ic growth built from the middle-out, not the top down,” Mur­ray said in a state­ment.

As un­der Ry­an-Mur­ray, the new House Re­pub­lic­an budget provides $1.014 tril­lion in dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing dur­ing the up­com­ing fisc­al year with $521.3 bil­lion al­loc­ated for de­fense and $492.4 bil­lion for nondefense pro­grams.

Sixty-two Re­pub­lic­ans voted against those fig­ures back in Decem­ber, when Ry­an-Mur­ray was mak­ing its way through the House, as many con­ser­vat­ives wanted deep­er cuts. But giv­en the more par­tis­an nature of Ry­an’s new budget doc­u­ment, even a stronger ma­jor­ity of House Re­pub­lic­ans will be needed to pass it, put­ting the House Budget Com­mit­tee chair­man in a dif­fi­cult po­s­i­tion of try­ing to ap­peal to more con­ser­vat­ives while also main­tain­ing cent­rist sup­port.

As such, Ry­an ap­pears to be tak­ing a gamble by of­fer­ing a deal to fel­low con­ser­vat­ives and by mak­ing even deep­er cuts to dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing than are called for un­der se­quest­ra­tion be­gin­ning in Oc­to­ber of next year — all so he can beef up de­fense spend­ing. The Ry­an budget would cut $43 bil­lion from nondefense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing in fisc­al 2016 — the next year in which Con­gress will have to pass a budget — and put that fund­ing dir­ectly in­to de­fense. By 2024, the budget cuts $791 bil­lion from nondefense pro­grams and adds an­oth­er $483 bil­lion to the de­fense dis­cre­tion­ary ac­count.

In 2024, nondefense dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing would hit $467 bil­lion, the low­est it has been since 2005, while dis­cre­tion­ary de­fense spend­ing would be at its highest level since 2010.

“There is no fore­see­able ‘peace di­vidend’ on our ho­ri­zon,” de­clares one sum­mary sec­tion of the pro­posed budget.

Those cuts could help to bring more Re­pub­lic­ans on board with the pro­pos­al, which will be marked up Wed­nes­day. The le­gis­la­tion could see floor ac­tion as soon as next week, with the House set to take its two-week East­er break on April 11, just days ahead of the April 15 dead­line for budget ac­tion.

In­cluded in the plan is an­oth­er call to re­align Medi­caid spend­ing so that the fed­er­al share is giv­en to states in a block-grant-like pro­gram to tail­or to their own needs. The an­nu­al pro­pos­al has been a pop­u­lar elec­tion-year tar­get for Demo­crats.

And while in­sist­ing that its pro­posed Medi­care changes do not con­sti­tute “a vouch­er pro­gram,” Ry­an’s budget calls for re­cip­i­ents to choose from a list of cov­er­age op­tions and pay­ments that would “best suit his or her needs,” and then pay­ments would be made dir­ectly to that plan. Longer term, the budget pro­pos­al dis­cusses giv­ing seni­ors who first be­come eli­gible when turn­ing 65 on or after Jan. 1, 2024, a choice of se­lect­ing private plans along­side the tra­di­tion­al fee-for-ser­vice Medi­care pro­gram.

In many ways, Ry­an’s budget is a dir­ect re­but­tal of an­oth­er elec­tion-year doc­u­ment, Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2015 budget, and oth­er ad­min­is­tra­tion policies. Not­ably, it calls for an 8 per­cent in­crease in fund­ing for “dip­lo­mat­ic se­cur­ity” over 2013 levels, an im­pli­cit ref­er­ence to the at­tacks on the U.S. con­su­late in Benghazi.

Ry­an goes on his budget to ac­cuse the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency, a ma­jor foe of con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans and a pop­u­lar elec­tion-year straw­man, for “ab­us­ing the powers gran­ted in cur­rent law.” The budget would cut $23.5 bil­lion for the En­ergy De­part­ment over the next 10 years and calls on the agency to re­duce ad­min­is­trat­ive costs.

In a rare agree­ment with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, however, Ry­an pro­poses to re­form the emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pro­gram by pre­vent­ing be­ne­fi­ciar­ies from also draw­ing So­cial Se­cur­ity dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits. That pro­vi­sion has proven sur­pris­ingly bi­par­tis­an. It made its way in­to Obama’s budget this year, has been cham­pioned by Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, and is in­cluded in a lar­ger Re­pub­lic­an pack­age to tem­por­ar­ily re­store un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits that is cur­rently mak­ing its way through the Sen­ate. Ry­an’s budget of­fers no po­s­i­tion on the over­all pro­gram, which ex­pired in Decem­ber, however.

Ry­an, who is hop­ing to take over the gavel of the power­ful Ways and Means Com­mit­tee when Chair­man Dave Camp, R-Mich., re­tires next year, calls for full-scale tax re­form. Al­though his re­com­mend­a­tions are the same as in his last budget — in­clud­ing re­peal­ing the al­tern­at­ive min­im­um tax, re­du­cing the cor­por­ate tax rate to 25 per­cent and con­sol­id­at­ing the sev­en in­di­vidu­al in­come-tax brack­ets in­to two — Ry­an also spends some time prais­ing Camp’s and oth­er Re­pub­lic­an’s tax re­form plans.

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