WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a South Jersey Republican, was one of just 12 GOP lawmakers to vote against the Republican budget plan Thursday in a vote loaded with political weight.
LoBiondo voted against the budget plan advanced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the former GOP vice presidential candidate. Other Philadelphia-area Republicans – U.S. Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick, of Bucks County, Jim Gerlach, of Chester County, Pat Meehan, of Delaware County – supported the plan, which passed the House 219-205, without a single Democratic vote. Jon Runyan, of Burlington County, was home recovering from surgery and did not vote, according to an aide.
The bill carries significant political implications for both parties, even though no one expects it to become law. For Republicans, it is a signal of how they would govern if they keep the House and gain control of the Senate this fall. Democrats see the plan, which would sharply cut spending on popular programs in the name of reducing the deficit, as a weight around the necks of Republicans in moderate districts, much like the one LoBiondo represents.
Democrats will build much of their fall campaigns around the budget plan, much as Republicans are hinging their campaigns on criticism of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
LoBiondo, a 10-term Congressman is facing a potentially difficult re-election campaign in a district that President Obama won in 2012 and that includes both urban and rural areas – encompassing cities such as Atlantic City and Vineland, along with all of Cumberland and Salem counties. He pointed to lingering high unemployment in his district as a key reason to oppose the plan, which includes cuts to food aid to the poor.
"While I remain concerned about the $17 trillion in national debt, my immediate focus is ensuring the residents in my district have the critical assistance they need to survive," LoBiondo said in a statement. "It has been incredibly disappointing and frustrating to watch the economy not fully recover, reinforcing a lack of confidence in our businesses that stifles investment and job creation. With double-digit unemployment in my district, further reductions in food stamps, the children's health insurance program, student loans and other essential domestic programs vital to the families I represent is not something I can support at this time."
LoBiondo's home county, Atlantic, had an unemployment rate of 13.1 percent in February. LoBiondo in recent months has voted against other measures that also attempted to cut the aid program formerly known as food stamps.
Democrats quickly pointed out that LoBiondo had voted for three previous versions of the Ryan budget.
"After voting for Paul Ryan's reckless budget three years in a row and then doing an about-face because it's an election year, Frank LoBiondo proved today that he knows South Jersey voters are sick and tired of his failed agenda and he is fighting for his political life," said Marc Brumer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Bill Hughes Jr., an attorney whose father long held the seat before LoBiondo, is seeking the Democratic nomination, as is Dave Cole, a former Obama administration aide.
Local Republicans had voted for previous versions of Ryan’s plan.
"This plan balances the budget within the 10-year window, which is exactly what we need to create opportunity for everyone," Fitzpatrick said in a news release. "Furthermore, it protects Medicare for Bucks and Montgomery county seniors, compared to the Democrats' plan which took over $700 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare."
Ryan's plan, however, includes the same Medicare cuts that are in Obama's law. UPDATE: A Fitzpatrick aide pointed to a House budget committee statement that said the difference is that Ryan's Medicare cuts represent savings "devoted to saving Medicare" while Obama's were to help pay for his health law.
Democrats, of course, made Ryan's previous budget plan the center of their 2012 campaign – when Ryan was in the national spotlight as Mitt Romney's running mate – and still could not unseat any of the Philadelphia-area Republicans.
Ryan says his plan would eliminate government deficits over a decade – without relying on new tax revenue -- a goal that the GOP says would spur economic growth and help more people find jobs and economic security.
The bill would balance the budget with deep cuts to Medicaid, highway construction, food and heating aid to the poor, and Pell Grants for college students from low-income families. It would eliminate health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act but keep $1 trillion worth of the law's tax increases. The Ryan plan also retains a 10-year, $700 billion cut to Medicare, which Democrats approved in 2010 to help pay for the health care law in 2010.
Democrats have said the plan would hammer middle-class families by changing Medicare to a voucher-like program, among other proposals, while sparing the wealthy from budget pain.
Gerlach and Runyan are retiring.
More as this story develops.