GOP panel presses budget fight toward tax overhaul

Andrew Taylor
Associated Press

Washington — A GOP-controlled House panel on Wednesday worked into the night on a Republican fiscal plan that probably won’t deliver on its promises to balance the budget, but would begin to clear a path for a GOP effort to overhaul the tax code this fall.

The plan proposes deep cuts to safety net programs like Medicaid and food stamps and reprises a controversial Medicare plan strongly opposed by President Donald Trump — though Republicans plan to try to deliver on a small fraction of the cuts.

Instead, to most Republicans on Capitol Hill, the most important element of the plan is the procedural pathway it would clear to allow Republicans to pass their top priority — an overhaul of the tax code — later this year without fear of a blockade by Senate Democrats. Passing a budget through Congress is the only way to get a GOP-only tax plan enacted this year.

Republicans argue that growing deficits and debt are part of the reason for slow economic growth and that big benefit plans like Medicare and Medicaid need changes now to keep them from going broke for future generations.

“Both parties in Washington have failed to abide by a simple principle that all American families and small businesses do — that we must live within our means,” said Budget Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn. “Balancing the budget requires us to make tough choices, but the consequences of inaction far outweigh any political risks we may face.”

But like the GOP’s health care repeal and replace efforts and its moribund hopes to boost infrastructure, the GOP budget outline faces opposition from both wings of the party. Republican conservatives want more of its proposed cuts to actually take effect in follow-up legislation, while moderates want to focus on tax reform instead of cuts to food stamps or federal employee pensions.

The nonbinding GOP plan promises to cut more than $5 trillion from the budget over the coming decade, though Republicans only appear serious about enacting a relatively modest 10-year, $203 billion deficit cut over the same period through filibuster-proof follow-up legislation. Conservatives are pressing for larger cuts, including strict work requirements for food stamps, for instance.

But Democrats blasted the sweeping cuts in the plan. It revives a provocative proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program for future retirees. Experts say that change would likely increase costs for beneficiaries.