House Republicans pass deep budget cuts

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News

March 26, 2015

WASHINGTON – House Republicans passed a fiscal 2016 federal budget Wednesday that would repeal Obamacare, turn Medicare into a voucher program, cost New York State $88.1 billion in Medicaid funding over 10 years and limit funding for food stamps and many other programs.

But to Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, it’s just the sort of tough medicine the federal budget needs in order to be balanced within 10 years and prevent a future economic crisis.

“If you live beyond your means forever, you ultimately get into devaluation of your currency and hyperinflation, like we’re seeing in Greece,” Collins said. “Yes, it might be 15 or 20 years from now, but that’s not the legacy I want to leave my children and grandchildren.”

House Democrats were quick to differ, though.

Arguing that the long-term deficit can be addressed in different ways, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said of the GOP budget: “It’s hurtful to Western New York. It’s hurtful to seniors who depend on Medicare. It’s hurtful to those who have health insurance now who didn’t have it before. It’s hurtful to families trying to afford higher education. It’s hurtful to those who believe infrastructure investment is important to places like Western New York.”

No matter what you think of it, though, the House budget is surely helpful to the House Republican caucus, which has found itself unable to agree on key issues such as Homeland Security funding during the first three months of the new Congress.

This time, through the use of an unusual procedure that allowed the House to vote on six alternative budget amendments, five of those proposals failed and the spending plan the GOP leadership favored prevailed in a narrow 219-208 vote. The House then approved that winning amendment a second time as its full budget resolution in a 228-199 vote.

While putting the budget on a glidepath to balance in 10 years, the winning plan appeased defense hawks by boosting military spending by another $20 billion over an earlier version of the plan. Lawmakers rejected another version that called for that $20 billion to be paid for through additional cuts to domestic spending – something that Collins said would make it impossible to get the White House to agree on individual spending bills later in the budget process.

Both Collins and Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, rejected that version of the budget, along with an even more conservative one that would balance in five years, instead supporting the plan put forth by the party leadership.

“I think it sets a reasonable path and addresses the issues at hand,” Reed said of the leadership budget.

The Obama administration could not disagree more. During a briefing for regional reporters earlier this week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest criticized House Republicans for proposing to deeply slash funding on many programs while simultaneously working to eliminate the estate tax – a $300 billion tax cut that benefits only people worth more than $11 million, he said.

“Budgets are about priorities, and the Republican budget sets the wrong priorities,” Earnest said.

For his part, Collins defended the deep Republican spending cuts, which largely echo those put forth by former House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., in recent years.

Programs such as Medicaid and food stamps “need basic reform,” Collins said, and the GOP spending plan accomplishes that by turning the programs into block grants to the states.

But a White House report said such reforms could disproportionately hurt states such as New York, which has the nation’s most generous Medicaid program.

And both Earnest and Higgins said the GOP spending plan includes plenty of provisions that Democrats could not accept under any circumstances.

That being the case, Higgins said: “I think we’re headed for more gridlock, unfortunately.”

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