House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan introduced a hard-core GOP budget last week. His committee passed the package in a 19-18 vote. Two Republicans voted against it. No Democrats voted for it. Partisanship lives.
Last year, the Ryan budget passed the House in a 235-193 vote. No Democrats voted for the GOP plan. Only Republicans voted yes. Four GOP members voted no. Two Republicans and three Democrats didn't vote.
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought the House package to the floor, five Senate Republicans voted no, and the measure failed 57-40. The Ryan budget, however, fared better than President Barack Obama's plan, which the Senate rejected 97-0.
The Senate hasn't passed a budget since April 29, 2009. As House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy recently lamented, Washington is "the only city ... where you get rewarded for doing nothing."
Neither the Ryan budget nor Obama's February spending plan is likely to pass this year. The Democratic Senate won't go for the GOP cuts, and House Republicans won't go for Obama's tax hikes. But the two plans will be fodder in the 2012 election, providing voters with a stark choice.
Here are three things you should know about the coming budget wars:
The Ryan plan would not, as White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer warned, "end Medicare as we know it."
Under the Ryan "premium support" plan, in 2023 seniors could enroll in traditional fee-for-service Medicare or private health care plans. The big change would be that Washington would cap increases. There's a reason for the cap: Without fixes, the status quo will end Medicare as we know it.
As Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote on The Huffington Post, "unless Congress enacts meaningful Medicare reform in the near future, seniors will be faced with inevitable cost-shifting and eventual benefit cuts until Medicare doesn't look anything like the program does today." The Congressional Budget Office projects that Medicare's hospital trust fund will run out of money by 2022.
In a column for The Wall Street Journal, Ryan boasted that his approach has won over "courageous Democrats," and he sees "bipartisan" consensus growing for reforms. Nonsense. Other than unelected think tank eggheads -- such as Democratic budget guru Alice Rivlin, whose support does not require courage -- I can count one Democrat prepared to work for a bipartisan solution: Wyden.
Wyden reached out to Ryan, and the two drafted a compromise Medicare reform proposal, which would keep traditional fee-for-service Medicare for seniors who prefer it. Wyden-Ryan also added consumer protections and catastrophic coverage.
For his troubles, Wyden was branded a "useful idiot" by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
President Obama released a statement praising the bipartisanship of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, after she announced her decision not to run for re-election because of Washington's climate of partisan polarization. Democrats love to moan about the ugly partisanship on the right, while they turn their backs on their Olympia Snowe, Ron Wyden.
The Ryan plan promises tax reform by simplifying tax rates so that there are two rates, 10 percent and 25 percent, and paying for the reduction by aggressively eliminating loopholes, tax deductions and other tax expenditures. Unfortunately, the Ryan plan does not specify what those aggressive reductions would be.
Ryan has shown Wyden-like courage in pushing for Medicare and tax reform -- and not backing down while lesser Republicans flinched from difficult reforms. (Remember when Newt Gingrich dismissed Ryan's Medicare as "right-wing social engineering"?!) Though I would love to take Ryan at his word that the GOP would cut popular deductions, I lack faith in the party's rank and file.
Then there are voters, who have gotten used to hearing that they shouldn't have to pay for the government they've elected. Obama promises more government -- and only the rich should have to pay for it. It's an impossible scheme.
Ryan has been right to call the administration out for offering only "debt, doubt and decline." He presents a strong opening bid for reform. But his plan will not work without resolve. And that's as rare a commodity as courage and bipartisanship in Washington.