House GOP Budget Axes Obamacare, Boosts Defense

House GOP Budget Axes Obamacare, Boosts Defense
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Republicans in the House of Representatives released their $3.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year 2016 Tuesday -- a plan that would balance the budget within a decade by slashing $5.5 trillion in spending over that span while increasing military outlays and fully repealing Obamacare, among other policy initiatives.

In his first cycle as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia unveiled the document at a press conference Tuesday morning. The proposal kept much of the groundwork laid out in budgets put forth by Price’s predecessor, Rep. Paul Ryan, with several additions. Among them, the new plan changes Medicare, creating a voucher program that provides seniors with “premium support” to pay for private health care, rather than government-funded health care.

The main difference this year, however, is that the budget is more than just a rhetorical document laying out Republican values. While previous GOP budgets had little hope of being reconciled with the Senate, which was under Democratic control, the party holds a majority in both chambers this year. If members can come together on their plans, it would open the door to actually putting some of them on President Obama’s desk. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to release its proposal Wednesday.

Democrats were unsurprisingly negative about the House plan, condemning the heavy cuts in areas like education, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the method used to increase defense spending. They labeled this budget as simply more of the same from previous years. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said it “disinvests in the United States of America,” while Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said it is “unrealistic, unserious, and unworkable.”

Van Hollen also disagreed with Republicans’ claim that their budget would balance within 10 years, citing revenues it included from the ACA, which is intends to repeal, without identifying offsets.

“Any second-grade math student can figure out that their budget doesn’t balance and it’s budget quackery on its face,” the Maryland congressman said.

The budget proposals being released this week are simply blueprints, the first step in a long process toward funding the federal government. If adopted, they do not go to the president for his signature but rather provide an outline for passage of appropriations bills later this year.

To get to that point, however, lawmakers will have to vote in favor of the proposals, which could prove difficult considering the complete lack of Democratic support. Some of the more conservative members in the House -- a consistent thorn in the side of GOP leadership when it comes to passing legislation -- seemed open to Tuesday’s proposal, but wouldn’t go so far as to express outright support for it.

“I’m leaning towards yes, but I want to see the final product,” Rep. Jim Jordan, the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said at an event Tuesday afternoon. Fellow Republican Rep. Raul Labrador added that there were things he did and didn’t like about the budget, but that he is “trying to get to yes.”

One of the main sticking points between the two chambers is likely to be defense spending. Automatic cuts, known as sequestration, prevent more than $523 billion being spent on defense. Rather than go above those levels, as Obama did in his own budget proposal, Price proposed adding $90 billion to what is called the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which was created to provide emergency funds for wars and isn’t subjected to the mandated spending limits.

“We do it in a responsible way that addresses current law,” Price said of the military increases, adding that it is not possible to go over sequester caps without legislation outside the budget process.

A large number of Republicans have said they won’t support any budget that doesn’t increase defense funding above sequester levels, but some members on both sides of the aisle were critical of adding to contingency funds as the way to accomplish that. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain reiterated Tuesday that he won’t support any budget without defense increases, but said he doesn’t necessarily support the House’s method of doing so.

“It’s not legitimate budgeting when you talked about that kind of money for OCO” McCain told reporters.

Labrador, speaking at an event for House conservatives, said he’s not in favor of adding military spending through the contingency fund, instead preferring that any increases be done through the actual budget.  

“I think we should again be honest and put it in the budget if that’s what we’re trying to do is plus-up the military budget,” Labrador said. “But I’m not going to allow that to be the reason I vote against the budget, even though I don’t like the trick that is being used.”

The committees in the House and Senate will each mark up their budget proposals later this week. To stick to the overall budget timeline, they’ll have to pass them by the end of next week, when Congress begins its annual two-week break for the Easter holiday.

“I think so, sure,” Price said when asked if his budget could pass. “Absolutely.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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