WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – On a strict, party-line vote, the House of Representatives voted April 15 in favor of an austere Republican budget proposal–a vision of the future–without Medicare and with even lower taxes on the wealthy.
The final vote count was 235-193, with four Republicans voting with all the Democrats against the measure authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which the GOP called a “Path to Prosperity.”
Democrats called the budget resolution a “Roadmap to Ruin.”
The Ryan plan would cut the 2012 federal budget by $1.6 trillion and purportedly reduce the size of the national debt, but in fact it would endorse a $1 trillion deficit in 2012 and a $700 billion deficit in 2013.
President Obama unveiled his own budget plan April 13, with its stated goal to cut the budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. In a televised address, Mr. Obama countered the Republican budget plan with what he said was a more balanced approach reliant in part on the rolling-back of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. House Republican leaders flatly rejected any suggestion that they would accept any tax increases.
Mr. Obama also vowed to protect Medicare, which Republicans would privatize, or in their words “transform” into a voucher system which would give seniors a stipend with which to purchase health insurance from private companies.
The Ryan budget however, would officially increase the national debt by some $5 trillion over the next 10 years and continue $400 billion annual budget deficits through at least 2021. By contrast, President Obama’s budget proposal would add $9.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years and never fall below a $500 billion annual deficit despite a series of huge tax increases, according to Thomas R. Eddlem, writing for TheNewAmerican.com.
“That means that, despite proposing $4.3 trillion in what would be the most severe and wrenching budget cuts in U.S. history–two-thirds of which would come from programs for people of low or moderate incomes–the plan barely reduces deficits at all over the next decade,” according to James R. Horney, writing for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“That’s because his budget cuts are offset by $4.2 trillion in tax cuts that would go disproportionately to those at the top. In essence, at least for the next decade, this plan is far less a blueprint for addressing deficits and far more a proposal to redistribute large amounts of resources from those at the bottom to those at the top,” Mr. Horney wrote.
The GOP budget is nothing more than “a Tea Party checklist of targeted programs that help the most vulnerable,” Congressional Black Caucus member Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said on the House floor during the budget debate.
More than two dozen members of Congress protested the budget-cut-mania which, they insist, is sweeping Washington and targeting the poor and the hungry, both domestically and abroad, by joining a national fast that has continued for more than three weeks. The group includes Rep. Lee and 13 other female members of Congress who say cuts to poverty-focused international relief programs will directly impact women and girls worldwide.
For his part, Rep. Ryan resorted to racially coded language similar to President Ronald Reagan’s frequent references to “Welfare Queens,” who were draining the economy while driving around in luxurious Cadillac automobiles, in order to whip up public support for his plan.
“We’re in a moment where if government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America’s best century will be considered our past century,” Mr. Ryan said in the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.
“This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency,” he continued.
Former Congress member Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), and the Green Party presidential nominee in 2008 sees the rhetoric for just what it is.
“These people (are) trying to figure out a way to keep their dominance over the political system at the expense of all of the rest of us, so why not go back to the play in the playbook that wins every time?” Ms. McKinney told The Final Call. “And that is, racist demagoguery wins every time in this country.
“So, utilizing divide and conquer, they have only gone back to the play that has worked so well for them in the past. This isn’t anything new, and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised by it.
“But what saddens me is that the likelihood is, that people will get energized to stay within the same corral that doesn’t provide solutions to the problems that face the American people,” said Ms. McKinney.
Many observers have condemned the race-class-divisions promoted in the budget-balancing measures that call entirely for discretionary spending cuts which are being trumpeted by Republicans, and silently co-signed by many Democrats.
“To suggest the safety net has become a hammock shows me Paul Ryan has never been around poor people,” the Rev. Jim Wallis, one of the organizers of the national protest fast told Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!”
“I’d like to take him on a journey into the inner cities of his own state and around the world. Paul Ryan is acting like a bully. You know, bullies pick on people who have no clout. He’s not picking on the people who have the real money. He’s not asking his rich friends to sacrifice,” he said.
“He’s acting like a bully. And so, this has to be–this has to be said out loud. You know, if you don’t understand the struggles of ordinary people in this country, and you call their life a hammock, you’ve never been any place where there are poor people.”
The GOP achieves its reductions by drastically altering two of the four spending areas–Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense–which together account for two thirds of the federal budget.
The plan would slowly phase out the current Medicare system and replace it by offering beneficiaries partially subsidized private insurance. It would turn Medicaid into a block-grant program, allowing states to roll back currently guaranteed benefits for the poor and disabled. And it would eliminate most of the savings achieved from cutting these entitlements by once again lowering the tax burden on wealthy Americans.
“A budget, whether at a kitchen table or in Washington, D.C., a budget is always a matter of choices,” Rev. Wallis explained. “They were talking about cutting $8.5 billion from low-income housing, but keeping the same amount of money, $8.4 billion, for (tax) deductions on second vacation homes–a different kind of housing. Those are choices, $2.5 billion for cutting home heating oil for poor people, and yet $2.5 billion for offshore drilling subsidies for oil companies–those are choices.
“Amy, they want to cut, in this budget, 10 million malaria bed nets that keep kids from dying, and yet not one line item of military spending. And so, this is really not scarcity; it’s choices,” he continued.
“Paul Ryan is not serious about spending cuts. Neither is the Tea Party, because they don’t go to where the real money is. They don’t talk about massive corporate subsidies, corporate welfare, if you will,” said Rev. Wallis.
“They don’t talk about military spending, not at all. We spend more on the military–I won’t call it ‘defense;’ it isn’t defense–more on the military than the rest of the world combined. And they can’t find anything to cut. So they’re not budget hawks, they’re budget hypocrites, is what they are.”
Of the five budget proposals considered by Congress before adjourning for its spring recess, two of them–the Congressional Black Caucus alternative, and the Progressive Caucus alternative, known as “The People’s Budget”–were seldom discussed outside of the Congressional debate itself.
“During the last Administration, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle maxxed out the nation’s credit card for wars and (tax cuts for) the rich, all the while saying ‘deficits don’t matter,’” CBC member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said on the House floor during the debate.
“Now they’re using our deficit crisis as the rationale to undermine programs that they never supported, and push a divisive, social agenda that is a side-show to our budget debate. The People’s Budget and the CBC Budget alternatives are strong reflections of the priorities I believe in,” Rep. Waters continued.
“That’s why I’m extremely disappointed by the Republican FY 2012 budget plan that guts Medicaid by giving the states block grants; ends Medicare as we know it and replaces it with a healthcare coupon for seniors; does nothing to reign in growing and unsustainable military spending; and actually lowers tax rates for top-earning individuals and corporations that move money and jobs overseas.
“These are the choices being presented to the American people, and I believe that the majority of Americans, while serious about spending restraints, do not want to balance budgets on the backs of children, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly,” Rep. Waters said.
The bill now goes to the Democratically-controlled Senate, where it is expected to fail and lay the foundation for political battles between the GOP and the Democrats over the country’s priorities and the proper budget path.