House budgeteers drop Bush’s proposed cuts to Medicare
WASHINGTON – Bowing to election-year realities, House budget writers dropped President Bush’s proposed cuts to hospitals and other Medicare providers Wednesday but preserved his plan to trim spending by most Cabinet agencies.Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, fashioned a $2.8 trillion plan for the budget year beginning Oct. 1 that omits Bush’s cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, crop subsidies and other politically sensitive programs.The House GOP plan for the 2007 budget year adopts Bush’s $873 billion cap on agency budgets renewed by Congress each year. It also assumes just $50 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, less than one-half of expected spending for the current year.In a debate that headed toward the evening hours, Republicans swatted back attempts by Democrats to increase funding for port security and education and health programs as they approached party-line approval of the GOP measure.Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-N.H., however, won unanimous approval of a proposal for $795 million in additional funding for veterans benefits to make up for money lost due to lawmakers’ opposition to unpopular fees proposed by Bush.The underlying plan endorses Bush’s call for a 7 percent increase in the core defense budget – which doesn’t include Iraq war costs – for next year.The GOP plan also assumes $226 billion in additional tax cuts over five years, more than half of which would go for extending Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, most of which are set to expire in 2010. But it doesn’t provide for considering a tax cut bill under fast-track budget rules.Nussle credited earlier tax cuts with reviving an economy that was in recession when Bush took office.”As a result of giving Americans more control over their money, we’ve seen more investment, more jobs and greater opportunities in this country,” Nussle said.Democrats blasted the Republican blueprint, which would produce a deficit of $348 billion in 2007 and deficits totaling more than $1 trillion through 2011 if Congress enacts its policies.And they doubted it would even meet these deficit goals, since it doesn’t account for the costs of the war in Iraq after 2007 or for shielding middle-to-upper income taxpayers from being hit by the alternative minimum tax.Rep. John Spratt Jr., D-S.C., said the national debt would almost double to more than $9 trillion under Bush’s tenure in office, a natural result “from a fiscal policy that says you can have guns, butter, tax cuts too and never mind the deficit…. It holds no real plan or prospect of balancing the budget.”While the House GOP plan would drop $65 billion in benefit cuts over five years proposed by Bush’s February budget – such as curbs to Medicare, Medicaid and crop subsidies – it goes further than Bush in attacking appropriated spending, the approximately one-third of the budget passed by Congress each year.And, for the first time, Republicans seek to limit spending for future disasters to the $4.3 billion contained in a rainy day fund.It would cut federal spending on education by more than $5 billion, about 7 percent. And, after allowing for an increase next year, it would cut the budget for veterans medical care below current levels through the rest of the decade. Democrats said that would feel more like a $10 billion cut after inflation and expected growth in the number of veterans seeking benefits is taken into account.A rival Senate plan passed two weeks ago was rewritten during floor debate to bust through Bush’s $873 billion spending cap by $16 billion, and GOP moderates are pressing to raise the cap in the House to ease cuts to education, health research and block grants to local governments and relief agencies.The split between moderates and conservatives threatens to delay floor action on the House plan and could create an impasse with the Senate, where Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is adamant about additional funds for education and health.After Republicans had enormous difficulty passing a five-year, $39 billion benefit cut bill last year, Nussle proposed just $6.8 billion in savings spread over five years from such so-called mandatory programs, whose budgets rise typically rise with inflation and population growth.Among the reforms assumed by the GOP plan is eliminating taxpayer subsidies on flood insurance for vacation beach houses and permitting increased sales of tungsten stockpiled by the Defense Department.The budget resolution is a nonbinding blueprint that establishes lawmakers’ tax and spending priorities. It sets the outlines for bills that cut or raise taxes and spending.Vail, Colorado
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