Panels approve budget plans
Proposals in both chambers seek less for social programs, more for defense.
WASHINGTON - Republicans in Congress advanced balanced-budget plans bristling with cuts in Medicaid and other benefit programs Thursday, determined to make a down payment on last fall's campaign promise to erase deficits by the end of the decade.
Last-minute maneuvering to match Pentagon spending levels requested by President Obama consumed GOP lawmakers in both the House Budget Committee and the counterpart Senate panel.
Yet the GOP's focus also extended to deficit reduction, repeal of the health-care law, an overhaul of the tax code, and other budget priorities long advocated by conservatives in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in nearly a decade.
"By demanding Washington live within its means, we are forcing government to be more efficient, effective and accountable," Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.) said after gaveling the House's version of the budget through its Budget Committee on a 22-13 party-line vote.
The Senate budget panel, chaired by Sen. Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.), followed suit a few hours later, on a 12-10 vote that also fell along party lines.
"What they are proposing is to cut programs for some of the most vulnerable people in this country - the elderly, children, sick, low-income people" said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who may run for president as a Democrat. "At the same time, they want to give significant tax breaks to the wealthy and the large corporations."
Both chambers' budget blueprints called for more than $5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, the overwhelming portion of it coming from repeal of the health-care law and savings from social programs including Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, and Medicare. Details were sparse or, in some cases, nonexistent.
There were differences in the two plans.
For the third year in a row, House Republicans showed an eagerness to convert Medicare into a voucher-like program for individuals who enroll beginning in 2024, a change that would generate significant budget savings only in the longer term.
Both blueprints envisioned an overhaul of the tax code, details to be determined later.
Pentagon spending was controversial.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) said the Senate plan "fails to prioritize our national defense after years of damaging cuts to our nation's military."
On the Senate budget panel, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) won party-line 12-10 approval for a $38 billion proposal to raise military spending to levels the House is expected to approve.