A united House Republican conference voted overwhelmingly to pass budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s sweeping budget plan that would cut $5.8 trillion in spending over the next ten years, lowering corporate tax rates and transforming Medicare into a voucher system for private insurance plans. The vote could be a defining one for members running for reelection as Washington goes forward in the debate over how to reform unsustainable entitlement programs and tackle debt.
All but six House Republicans voted for the plan, and no Democrat voted for it. The final tally was 235 to 193, with five members abstaining.
The Ryan plan, which he calls the “Path to Prosperity,” sparked a fierce debate in Washington when it was released earlier this month. President Obama, who had yet to offer a vision on how to balance the budget and address the mounting $14 trillion debt, then gave a speech to outline his vision, which included raising some taxes and controlling Medicare costs while keeping the system intact.
President Obama attacked Ryan’s plan in the speech, saying it assumes that “even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy.” He later added, “That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.” (Read details of Obama’s plan here.)
Ryan defended his plan in an op-ed in the Washington Post Friday:
Unlike the president’s speech, which was rhetorically heated but substantively hollow, our budget contains specific solutions for confronting the debt and averting the most predictable crisis in our nation’s history. It also offers a contrast in visions. Unlike the speech, our budget advances a vision of America in which government both keeps its promises to seniors and lives within its means.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Post’s Greg Sargent before the vote that he thought the Republicans’ willingness to vote to turn Medicare into a voucher program would allow Democrats to retake the House in 2012.
“When we win back the majority, people will look back at this vote as a defining one that secured the majority for Democrats,” Israel told Sargent. “All the polling tells us the same thing…voting to terminate Medicare is a bad idea politically in every district…Republicans oppose it. Democrats oppose it. And Independents oppose it.”
National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay responded to Sargent’s post in a statement:
“If there is one thing Steve Israel is faithful to, it is his party’s shameless scare tactics intended to cover up the Democrats’ plan to watch Medicare die a painful death. House Republicans think that is an unacceptable option for America’s seniors, which is why they have proposed a solution to strengthen and save Medicare,” Lindsay said
The vote on the Ryan plan wasn’t the only important vote on the House floor Friday: As Terence Burlij reported, Democrats used a procedural maneuver to force Republicans to either accept or reject a budget alternative from the Republican Study Committee that would cut more taxes and spending than Ryan’s plan. The measure failed after several Republicans switched from yes to no votes.
The Ryan plan is not expected to pass in the Senate.
“The Republican plan to end Medicare and immediately raise prescription drug costs for seniors in order to pay for millionaire tax breaks will never pass the Senate. The fact that it passed the House shows just how far to the right the Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement after the vote.