Ryan’s New Budget Already Roiling the Waters
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The Fiscal Times
March 19, 2012

Even before he formally unveils his new spending blueprint Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has touched off an uproar among Democrats and even some moderate Republicans that could lead to another government crisis.

Ryan (R-Wis.) will again call formajor changes in Medicare and outline a fiscal 2013 budget  that would set domestic discretionary spending  below the $1.047 trillion cap that was set by the budget deal negotiated by President Obama and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders  last summer.

While the new GOP budget plan has virtually no chance of being enacted into law this year, it will sharply define Republican budget and tax priorities heading into a crucial election and likely set the stage for another fiscal impasse.   Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has already ruled out a Senate vote this year on a formal budget plan.

And the  Democratic chairmen of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee warned House leaders on Monday that if they move ahead with Ryan’s proposals, they would undermine last summer’s hard-won agreement and risk a government shutdown.

“Should the House back out of last summer’s agreement and attempt to lower the fiscal year 2013 discretionary level, the House would delay consideration of the appropriations bills,” wrote Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii.  “This delay would significantly increase the likelihood of omnibus legislation – denying the majority of members of both the House and the Senate the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in FY 2013 spending decisions.  Importantly, the House’s action would risk a government shutdown.”

Conrad and Inouye also charged that Ryan’s efforts to essentially rewrite the terms of last summer’s Budget Control Act is a “breach of faith” that “will make it more difficult to negotiate future agreements.”

Ryan, a rising star within the Republican ranks, roiled the waters a year ago when he introduced a budget calling for deep spending cuts and a proposal to privatize Medicare. The highly controversial Medicare plan got his party into political hot water and became a campaign rallying cry for Democrats who claimed the Republicans were attempting to destroy the federal health care system for the elderly.

Ryan is likely to introduce yet another iteration of Medicare reform today, possibly a bipartisan proposal that Ryan worked out with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that would give the elderly the option of sticking with Medicare or purchasing private health insurance with a government subsidy.

This budget move – which has the blessing of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is upsetting  House and Senate Democrats who believe in the old adage that “a deal is a deal.” Some moderate Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee who are facing tough reelections also want to honor the agreement forged with   Obama as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

“We voted for it. That’s the number we should use,” Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., said recently.  A spokesman for Boehner said House leaders always viewed the spending cap an “an upper limit” and that it didn’t preclude Congress from cutting spending below that level.

Boehner and Ryan may be feeling the heat of some conservative House members and tea party activists who want to be able to show their constituents further progress in bringing down the $1 trillion annual deficit.   But one need only recall the painfully chaotic and bitterly partisan months of negotiations leading up to the debt ceiling and deficit reduction deal last July to have second thoughts about a do-over.

TheBudget Control Act that emerged from those tough negotiations established 10 years of binding discretionary spending levels, reducing the deficit by a total of  more than $900 billion over the coming decade. Moreover, the agreement is forcing $1.2 trillion of  additional automatic cuts in domestic and defense spending or revenue increases over the coming decade after a “Super Committee” of House and Senate Democratic and Republican negotiators couldn’t agree on how to make those savings.

The legislation had other benefits, such as allowing the fiscal 2012 appropriations process to move ahead and avoiding the threat of a government shutdown.  Congress was able to enact all 12 spending bills for fiscal 2012, an unusual feat.

“Rather than trying to tear down the BCA, we should be holding it up as an example of what can be accomplished if we are willing to set aside our differences and work hard to find bipartisan solutions to our nation’s challenges,” Conrad and Inouye said in their letter to Boehner and Cantor.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.