The Washington Post

Paul Ryan’s final budget plan would slash $5 trillion in next decade

The House Budget Committee is expected to debate and pass the spending plan Wednesday, and GOP leaders have said they will hold a vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal. Democrats dismissed Ryan’s plan as unrealistic. (Susan Walsh/AP)

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced a budget proposal Tuesday that would cut more than $5 trillion in federal spending over the next decade, primarily by effectively repealing President Obama’s signature health-care law and greatly reducing funding for social programs.

The 99-page plan is Ryan’s last manifesto on government austerity as head of the Budget Committee. He has emerged as the GOP’s leading light on fiscal policy in recent years, but he is term-limited as head of the budget panel and vying to become chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee next year while considering a 2016 presidential bid.

Congress approved a bipartisan two-year budget agreement late last year, but Ryan said he drafted a separate proposal because the current plan “is nowhere near what we need” to cut spending.

“I believe we need to be an alternative party,” Ryan said. “I believe we need to be a proposition party, not just an opposition party.”

The budget plan reaffirms the conservative goal of creating a top individual tax rate of 25 percent and consolidating the seven individual income-tax brackets into two. But it makes little mention of an ambitious tax overhaul advocated by the outgoing Ways and Means chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who on Monday announced that he will retire at the end of this term.

Ryan said that tax reform “is not a settled issue” among House Republicans and that Camp’s proposal was merely a “discussion draft” meant to start a conversation on the subject.

The House Budget Committee is expected to debate and pass the spending plan Wednesday, and GOP leaders have said they will hold a vote on Ryan’s proposal. Ryan and senior GOP leadership aides predicted Tuesday that the proposal will eventually pass the House with sufficient Republican support because it is similar to the one passed last year. Just 10 Republicans voted against Ryan’s 2013 budget, the same number who voted against his 2012 plan.

Democrats dismissed Ryan’s plan as unrealistic and signaled that they would again use it to draw contrasts for voters before November’s midterm elections.

“This is the definition of class warfare,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. He blasted Ryan for proposing hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to education, the food stamp program and the Medicare prescription drug program.

“Mitt Romney said he wasn’t interested in helping the 47 percent. This budget sets out to prove that,” Van Hollen told reporters, referring to comments made by Ryan’s 2012 presidential running mate about the nation’s economic divide.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) slammed the Ryan proposal as “Kochtopia,” or fulfilling the requests of conservative businessmen Charles and David Koch, who are spending tens of millions of dollars to try to discredit Democratic congressional candidates and help GOP contenders.

The White House rejected Ryan’s plan and said in a statement that it “would slow the economy, stack the deck against the middle class and threaten the guaranteed benefits seniors have paid for and earned.”

But any fighting between Democrats and Republicans on spending will not result in the deadline-driven fiscal crises of recent years. Although the GOP-controlled House is expected to debate and pass Ryan’s plan, it will serve only as a political show vote because Democrats, who control the Senate, do not plan to propose or vote on a budget plan.

Overall, Ryan would cut about $5.1 trillion from projected spending over the next decade, with nearly $3 trillion coming from repealing the health-care law and revamping Medicaid. Still, his proposals fall short of balancing the budget, forcing him to resort to a vague promise of new revenue from “economic growth” to meet his goal of wiping out deficits by 2024.

He proposed no increase in defense spending, instead adhering to the discretionary spending limits he negotiated with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in December.

The new proposal is far different in structure from any of Ryan’s previous proposals, which were mostly broad vision statements. It plods function by function through appropriations categories, with the apparent aim of recommending savings in each.

The plan recycles several proposals from previous years that remain popular among GOP lawmakers, including repealing the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. But Ryan would keep the taxes and cuts to Medicare mandated by the law. He calls for privatizing Medicare by changing it from an entitlement program into a voucher-style program. He also proposes cuts to other domestic agencies and reductions in the federal workforce and cuts in retirement benefits for federal workers. And he again did not provide a plan to overhaul Social Security.

Ryan released a critique of the government’s anti-poverty policies last month and billed it as a prelude to his budget proposal. But the proposal lacks a full welfare reform plan and few ideas about changing social programs, instead advocating smaller steps that would “encourage work” and seek to boost economic growth.

Ryan said he plans later this year to introduce proposals on how to combat poverty because Congress needs to “reassess” how to measure the success of federal social programs.

“If this were a function of just throwing money and if that were successful, we would have already solved this problem,” he said.

Lori Montgomery and Wesley Lowery contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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