In most years, the federal budget debate on Capitol Hill is an incremental affair – a few billion more here, a billion or so less there.
But Wednesday’s release of the House Republican Budget Alternative sets up a clash of starkly different worldviews.
While President Obama’s budget would expand the scope of government – “rebuild America for the demands of the 21st century,” as he puts it – the House GOP alternative aims to return government spending to historical levels.
“The president’s budget is little more than a thinly veiled attempt by Washington to spend its way into prosperity, tax its way into tax relief, and borrow its way into debt reduction,” said Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee. “This simply cannot work,” he added in a press briefing on Wednesday.
A trillion here, a trillion there
Compared with the Obama administration’s 10-year budget projection, House Republicans propose spending $4.8 trillion less, borrowing $3.6 trillion less, and zeroing out $1.5 trillion in proposed tax increases over the next 10 years.
To get there, the GOP alternative would rescind the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package, beginning in fiscal year 2010 – with the exception of unemployment insurance for those who have already lost their jobs.
It would also repeal the omnibus spending bill for FY 2009, thus rolling back spending – with the exception of defense and veterans spending, “our nation’s primary discretionary responsibilities” – to the levels of FY 2008.
Looking forward, the GOP plan proposes freezing nondefense, nonveteran spending for five years, followed by a “modest annual increase” for the next five years.
Instead of scheduled tax increases in 2010, the Republican budget would permanently extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and permanently fix the alternative minimum tax.
“It’s been very many years since the formal budget for the majority and minority party have been this far apart,” says Michael Franc, vice president for government relations at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Different visions on government’s role
At the heart of the conflict are competing visions of the size and scope of government. Even so, neither plan would significantly shrink the size of government. “Congressman Ryan’s is the radical alternative plan this year, yet his plan would keep government at the same size,” says Chris Edwards, a senior budget analyst at the libertarian CATO Institute.
The GOP plan would keep government spending at 18 to 20 percent of GDP for the foreseeable future, he adds. “Under Obama, spending would rise from 21 percent of GDP last year to 25 percent – and to 26 or 27 percent, if you include his health plan.”
In a rare move, Senate and House Republicans met together on the floor of the House this morning to set up a united front on the president’s budget.
No one needed a refresher on the GOP line on the president’s FY 2010 budget: “Spends too much, taxes too much, borrows too much.” It’s been used like a mantra (or sledgehammer) by GOP lawmakers ever since Mr. Obama released his first budget on Feb. 26.
But recently, Republicans took hits from Democrats and other critics for not providing numbers to flesh out an alternative vision. That’s the criticism that Wednesday’s release of an alternative budget aimed to squelch.
White House rebuttal
“While we do appreciate the details that have been provided, these are the same tried-and-true policies that have failed this country in the past,” said Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a phone briefing on the GOP budget proposal Wednesday. It’s unrealistic to talk about Congress going back and repealing two major bills they just passed in the past six weeks, he added. “It isn’t a plan. It’s a series of talking points that by our calculation doesn’t get you to the bottom line that they’re talking about."
But he added: “The president has made it very clear that this administration is going to be very different. If they have good ideas, we want to hear them.”