Despite heated objections to a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the congressman's controversial economic blueprint moved to the House Budget Committee for a markup today, hours before Senate Democrats are slated to unveil their own budget plan.
The plan, which Ryan unveiled yesterday morning, would balance the federal budget in 10 years and limit future spending growth to 3.4 percent, down from the current rate of 4.9 percent. It would also transform the nation's Medicare system to a voucher-like program for everyone younger than 55, and overhaul the federal tax code.
Ryan, in remarks opening up the committee markup this morning, said he didn't look at budgetary issues "like an accountant" - which he is not - but rather as a "citizen." He argued that balancing the budget is a moral obligation and a "reasonable goal" for the nation.
"Spending is the problem, and it's more than an economic problem. By living beyond our means we are stealing from our children," he said. Ryan argued that a debt crisis would be "the most predictable disaster in our history," and compared it to the 2008 financial collapse.
"Our debt is a sign of overreach," he argued, contending that balancing the budget "returns government to its proper limit and its proper focus."
President Obama disputed Ryan's claim about a looming debt crisis," countering in an interview on ABC that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt."
"In fact, for the next 10 years, it's gonna be in a sustainable place," he argued.
Congressional Democrats object fiercely to Ryan's blueprint, as they have to its various past iterations, none of which have passed through the Democrat-led Senate. Speaking on behalf of Democrats on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the committee's ranking member, reiterated his party's complaints that Ryan's "uncompromising approach" to deficit reduction favors the rich while placing undue burden on the middle-class.
"While providing this windfall to the very wealthy, this proposal guts vital investments that are central to shared prosperity, to upward mobility, and to rising middle-class wages," Van Hollen said. "It protects Pentagon spending, but it more than doubles the already deep sequester cuts to non-defense discretionary [spending]."
As for health care, Van Hollen argued, Ryan's plan eliminates Obamacare's benefits while keeping its built-in budget cuts, thereby taking a "wrecking ball" to Medicaid, reopening the prescription drug donut hole, and leaving people under 55 with a system reliant on "voucher, premium support, call it what you want, that declines in value relative to rising health care costs, leaving them to eat the difference."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., echoed similar points on the Senate floor this morning, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reiterated points his own party has made on the subject for years now. Both arguments are familiar from the 2012 election, when Ryan's budget became a point of controversy due to the congressman's place on the ticket alongside former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Democrats, who will unveil their own contentious budget proposal later this afternoon, argue that the intervening difference in this ongoing argument is the fact that Mr. Obama, not Romney, was elected president.
"This is the same budget plan we saw from congressman Ryan last year and the year before that. Even the name is the same. If anything, this new version is even more extreme than the last two Ryan Republican budget proposals, proposals that sought to end Medicare and raise taxes on middle-class families all while handing out more tax breaks to the wealthy," Reid said this morning on the Senate floor. "The Ryan Republican budget is anything but balanced and it reflects the same backward value Americans rejected in November."
Reaching a bipartisan agreement on a full-year budget proposal would, at this point, require unprecedented levels of compromise from a bitterly divided Congress. Barring the unlikely passage of a bipartisan, comprehensive, full-year, fiscal year budget, however, the government will not likely shut down immediately: By the end of the week, the Senate is expected to pass a short-term spending bill aimed at funding the government through September.