House Republicans unveiled a draft budget Tuesday designed to bring government spending in line with revenues over the next decade, while making significant cuts to safety net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.
The plan is non-binding, but sets the stage for a political showdown between the new, all-Republican Congress and President Obama.
"Our balanced budget for a stronger America saves $5.5 trillion, gets to balance within 10 years, without raising taxes," said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga. "The president's response in his budget: more taxes, more spending, more borrowing, more debt, more stagnant growth."
The GOP-controlled House has adopted similar budgets in previous years with little effect. This year's effort could go further, now that the Senate is in Republican hands for the first time in eight years.
If the two chambers can agree on a budget, it would open the door for the procedural tactic known as reconciliation, which prevents Senate Democrats from mounting a filibuster. Price said that gives Republicans "an opportunity to pass a piece of legislation out of the House and out of the Senate with just 51 votes in the United States Senate and put it on the president's desk — to put forward good policy and to provide a contrast for the American people to see who's trying to solve these challenges and who might be standing in the way."
The Republican House budget calls for a repeal of the president's signature health care law. It would also replace Medicare for those 56 and younger — future retirees — with a voucher-like system of subsidies that beneficiaries could use to shop for private insurance.
President Obama was quick to blast the GOP plan for what he sees as misguided austerity. "What we're seeing right now is a failure to invest in education and infrastructure and research and national defense," Obama said during a photo opp with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. "All the things that we need to grow, to create jobs, to stay at the forefront of innovation and to keep our country safe."
While the president's own budget released last month calls for increased taxes on the wealthy to help offset the cost of higher spending, the House Republican plan includes no additional taxes. "Every dollar that's taken for taxes or that's taken to borrow money is a dollar that can't be spent to buy a car, to pay the rent, to send a child to college or to technical school, to buy a house, to expand a business or grow a business, create jobs," Price said. "We think there's a better way."
The GOP budget does assume an increase in tax revenue, though, through faster economic growth. "We believe in the American people and we believe in growth," Price said.
The House budget officially maintains the limits on both domestic and military spending set by the Budget Control Act of 2011. But it adds tens of billions of dollars to a war-fighting fund that's not subject to the caps. "We recognize the imperative of providing for our military men and women and their families the resources that are needed to protect our national security and to respect their service," Price said.
In addition to highlighting differences with the president, the Congressional budget process may also expose fault lines within the Republican party. Defense hawks, for example, want to explicitly lift the cap on military spending, while deficit hawks are eager to hold the line. Republican senators running for re-election in blue and purple states next year may also be reluctant to embrace big changes in Medicare.
The Senate Budget Committee is due to begin marking up its version of a budget on Wednesday.