Republicans push conservative budgets in both houses 

click to enlarge Tom Price
  • AP Photo/Cliff Owen
  • House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., center, along with Republican members of the committee, announces the House Republican budget proposal, Tuesday, March 17, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The plan includes a boost in defense spending but cuts in the Medicaid program for the poor, food stamps and health care subsidies.
Making good on last fall's campaign commitments, Republicans advanced conservative budgets in both houses of Congress on Wednesday, setting up a veto struggle over the fate of the health care law and promising a whopping $5 trillion in spending cuts to erase deficits by the end of the coming decade.

The possibility of billions more for the Pentagon and an overhaul of the tax code also emerged as Republican priorities, although there were significant differences between the day-old proposal in the House and the one unveiled during the day by Senate Republicans.

Defense 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 enroll beginning in 2024.

Republicans claimed a balanced-budget, no-tax-increase approach.

By contrast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky 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."

He said the Republicans promise a plan "that will support economic growth and more opportunity for hardworking families, while protecting our most vulnerable citizens."

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 leveled 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. Senate Republicans said they intend to use legislation that Democrats cannot block to accomplish that goal.

Both budgets envision a significant campaign to cut spending, with much of the savings coming from Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and welfare.

Defense spending remained a work in progress. The House proposal recommended hiking existing funding by about $36 billion over a decade through an increase in an overseas account that has financed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget's authors were under pressure to give the Pentagon more in the face of a rebellion from defense hawks.

The Senate recommended less than the House — and less than Obama sought. Republicans there held out the possibility of an increase only if offsetting cuts could be found elsewhere in the budget.

The uproar over defense comes as automatic cuts known as sequestration are approaching for the Pentagon and domestic agencies. Both Republicans and the White House have indicated they would like to ease the cuts in 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.

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