House Republicans rolled out their budget proposal for FY2016, and it gives conservatives some reason to cheer. It includes plans to repeal ObamaCare and offer a voucher system for Medicare to control costs. Overall it eliminates more than five trillion dollars in projected spending over the next decade while keeping the sequester in place — but uses a back door to send more funds to the Pentagon:
The document would repeal ObamaCare “in its entirety,” and calls for “starting over with a patient-centered approach to health care reform.” The document does not get into deep specifics on what this might entail – one factor is a pending Supreme Court case over the law’s subsidies that could force Congress and the Obama administration to reconsider the policy, if the administration loses.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price’s $3.8 trillion plan borrows heavily from prior GOP budgets, including a plan that would transform Medicare into a voucher-like “premium support” program for seniors joining Medicare in 2024 or later. They would receive a subsidy to purchase health insurance on the private market.
They also propose to end food stamps as a federally-managed program. Instead, states would get bloc grants and manage funds as they see fit. That will prompt the usual cycle of “Republicans hate the poor!” attacks, with ad agencies probably already gearing up for the opportunities. Those programs really will get spending cuts, but the GOP will have to argue that states can make up for the difference in greater efficiency — and that getting to a balanced budget will mean cuts all around to federal programs.
That brings us to defense spending:
Meanwhile, Republicans are proposing using tens of billions of dollars in additional war funding to get around tight budget limits on the Pentagon.
The use of overseas military funds to skirt spending caps is a new feature. War spending is exempt from budget limits and the move would allow Republicans to effectively match Obama’s proposal to boost defense spending by $38 billion above current limits. That was a key demand of the party’s defense hawks.
That part of the proposal didn’t impress John McCain, who called it a “gimmick.” That’s true, but it’s not altogether illegitimate, either. The reason why conservatives want to increase Pentagon spending because of the renewed war in Iraq and Syria, its spread to Libya, and containing it within the region. Why not directly fund that through the existing AUMFs, which emphasizes their utility as well, rather than through baseline Pentagon spending? The answer to that is because we need to upwardly adjust baseline spending too, but politically that’s a loser while the GOP is making cuts to entitlement spending through explicit reductions and reforms of those systems.
Can they stick to this? With Barack Obama in office, probably not, unless they want another replay of 1995:
In the four years that Republicans have controlled the House, they have yet to try to implement their controversial cuts, which was understandable given that Democrats controlled the rest of Washington. But now that Republicans have seized the Senate there’s no expectation that they will follow the example of Republicans in 1995 and try to pass real legislation to balance the budget — with the certainty that Obama would veto any such measure as Bill Clinton thwarted the 1995 Newt Gingrich-led drive for a balanced budget.
“It’s going to require presidential leadership. We don’t have it,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. “We do not have a willing partner.”
No kidding. Republican presidential hopefuls can point this out, but they’ll also play up the problems with the leadership establishment in Congress. Bobby Jindal is already making that point in his interview with Hugh Hewitt (via Breitbart):
HH: Now Governor, I spoke off the record today with both a Senator and a Congressman senior in this process. And they’ve said the budget resolution is the first step in a complicated dance. Don’t pay attention to that number, because we have to get reconciliation. And you’re a legislator. You get this. You were in the Congress. We have to get the reconciliation language, then we can blow the cap on Defense, and then we can do a deal with the President. Are you willing to wait until October? Or do you want to see the Defense number blown up in the budget that passes as a resolution?
BJ: Hugh, here’s my concern. I’ve got two concerns. One, I wish I had more confidence and trust in our Congressional leadership. I’m glad that we got the majority, but they waved the white flag of retreat and surrender on amnesty. I worry they’re going to do the same thing on Obamacare when the Supreme Court rules. So I wish I had more confidence and faith they’ll show a backbone later this year. Secondly, I worry about planning purposes. We need to give our military leaders the confidence that we are going to be investing. It takes time to build ships, and build and buy these planes. It takes time to train our troops. And we don’t need to be inflicting these kinds of deep, deep cuts. I want them to have more predictability. Look, I don’t mind, I know that we’re not going to get to 4% overnight. It may take three to five years and will involve tens of billions of dollars in increases every year. It’ll take time for the Pentagon. And by the way, I’m all for reforming the Pentagon, and I’ve got specific ideas on acquisition reform and reducing the number of contractors and civilians, and some of the other areas where there’s an explosive growth. I think we need to signal sooner than later to the military that help is coming, we’re not going to hollow out our military, but even more importantly, we signal to our adversaries that in America, we believe in a stronger America. That is, you know, here’s the ironic thing. The best way to avoid war is to prepare for it. And peace through strength is not just a cliché or a bumper sticker or a slogan. It actually works. And I worry…
Don’t we all? Obama will never sign a budget that repeals ObamaCare, but it sets up the 2016 election for Republicans to have that fight — short of a shutdown. It might force Democrats to deal on some of the other reform pieces, especially on Medicare premium supplements, which have the best mechanism to hold down costs for the federal government of any other current plan.