WASHINGTON – Moving on two fronts, the Republican-controlled House on Thursday voted to keep the government running for the next six months while pushing through a tea-party flavored budget for next year that would shrink the government by another $4.6 trillion over the next decade.
The spending authorization on its way to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature leaves in place $85 billion in spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs. The result will be temporary furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors over the next six months and interrupted, slower or halted services and aid for many Americans.
The nonbinding GOP budget plan for 2014 and beyond calls for a balanced budget in 10 years’ time and sharp cuts in safety-net programs for the poor and other domestic programs.
Thursday’s developments demonstrated the split nature of this year’s budget debate. Competing nonbinding budget measures by each party provide platforms for political principles; at the same time Capitol Hill leaders forged a bipartisan deal on carrying out the government’s core responsibilities, in this case providing money for agencies to operate and preventing a government shutdown.
The GOP budget proposal, similar to previous plans offered by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., demonstrates that it’s possible, at least mathematically, to balance the budget within a decade without raising taxes. But to do so Ryan, his party’s vice presidential nominee last year, assumes deep cuts that would force millions from programs for the poor like food stamps and Medicaid and cut almost 20 percent from domestic agency budget levels assumed less than two years ago.
Ryan’s plan passed the House on a mostly party-line 221-207 vote, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats against it.
Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled Senate debated for a second day its first budget since the 2009 plan that helped Obama pass his health care law. A vote on the Senate measure is expected late Friday or early Saturday.
The Senate cast several politically freighted tallies Thursday night, including a move by Democrats to force a vote on the controversial Ryan budget, which was defeated 59-40, with five Republicans — including Maine’s Susan Collins and tea party stalwarts Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah — joining every Democrat and independent Angus King of Maine in opposition.
Republicans countered with a move by Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., putting Democrats on record in opposition to balancing the budget by the end of the decade. It failed on a near party-line vote.
But the Senate gave sweeping bipartisan approval to a proposal by Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to put senators on record in favor of repealing an unpopular $30 billion tax over 10 years on medical devices enacted to help pay for Obama’s health care bill.
The dueling House and Senate budget plans are anchored on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum in Washington, appealing to core partisans in warring GOP and Democratic tribes long gridlocked over how to attack budget deficits.
The GOP plan caters to tea party forces while Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., crafted a measure designed to nail down support from liberal senators like Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who vehemently oppose cuts to safety net programs, like Medicare and Social Security.
The sharp contrast over the 2014 budget and beyond came as the House cleared away last year’s unfinished fiscal business — a sweeping, government-wide bill to keep Cabinet agencies running through the 2013 budget year, which ends Sept. 30.
The House passed the bipartisan 2013 measure by a sweeping 318-109 vote. The Senate had approved the measure on Wednesday.
The measure would authorize money for the day-to-day operations of every Cabinet agency through Sept. 30, provide another $87 billion to fund overseas military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and maintain a pay freeze for federal workers. Automatic spending cuts of 5 percent to domestic programs and 8 percent to the Pentagon are left in place, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal workers facing job furloughs.
But the bill eases the effect of the trims on food inspections and college assistance for active-duty military and relieves the Pentagon from a cash crunch in accounts for training and readiness. Veteran health programs will get scheduled increases and there are big boosts to modernize the Pentagon’s nuclear arsenal. It also ensures funding for a food program for pregnant women and their babies.
The long-term, nonbinding GOP budget plan authored by Ryan, the party’s failed 2012 vice presidential nominee, makes lots of promises about “reforming” costly benefits programs like food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, but it’s often scant on details about the cuts. And while pledging a tax reform plan that would lower the top income tax bracket from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, it doesn’t say how it would replace almost $6 trillion in lost revenue.