The budget battle begins

Between the threatened government shutdown and Congressman Paul Ryan's new plan to slash government debt, the stage is set for a major fight over the federal budget

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, touts his 2012 federal budget during a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Anybody who has lived on borrowed money -- whether out of necessity or indulgence -- knows that short-term comfort is followed by pain of repayment. The US government faces this problem on a monumental scale.

A 2012 budget proposal released yesterday by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin is breathtaking in the dollars it aims to cut: $5.8 trillion. It is meant to pay down the even more breathtaking spending of the past decade that caused the national debt to soar to $14.2 trillion.

Everything from farm subsidies to the federal work force to the military would be cut under Mr. Ryan's plan. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would be altered. Food stamps and other welfare programs would be affected. Tax rates would be reduced. Dubbed "The Path to Prosperity," the aggressive budget-cutting proposal is certain to dominate debate between now and the 2012 election.

But before the Ryan plan even gets a full airing, a more immediate budget drama is playing out. The impasse over the current fiscal year budget appears likely to force a government shutdown by the end of the week. That will be the first battle in what promises to be an a long war over federal spending.

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