Even last year, Ryan’s fiscal 2014 budget resolution passed with only six votes to spare, 221-207. Ten Republicans voted against it, some because it did not reduce spending fast enough, others out of concern about its proposed changes to Medicare, what they viewed as insufficient support for defense or other spending cuts.
The budget resolution will be similar to past versions in its overall framework. But it will have less immediate practical effect, since it will not establish the discretionary spending top line.
Instead, the plan will abide by the $1.014 trillion discretionary spending limit, as well as $521 billion defense and $492 billion non-defense caps, in the two-year budget agreement Ryan negotiated with Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., last year.
Murray declared a budget resolution unnecessary this year, because the top line is already set.
But in the House, members of both parties say a budget resolution is still important as a statement of the policies that a party would pursue if it were in control of government.
“Budgets are always visionary documents,” said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., vice chairman of the Budget Committee. “It’s laying out the vision for how to reform the programs and save Medicare, or to save Medicaid, as opposed to letting them wither on the vine, which is what the president does and what Democrats when they do budgets do.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., another Budget member, said although Congress and President Barack Obama succeeded in cutting federal operational or discretionary spending and reached agreement on expiring tax cuts at the start of last year, they have not made the progress he wants to see in addressing the fastest growing government programs.
“You really do need to have this discussion about entitlement reform,” Cole said. “That’s what’s driving the budget deficit.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on Budget, said the GOP plan will trigger “an important debate for the country, even though it will not have an immediate impact on decisions over the next several months.
“We look forward to that debate because we think putting tax breaks for wealthy special interests over investments in our kids’ education and our national infrastructure is a lopsided set of priorities,” he said.
While much of the deficit reduction in the GOP budget will come from curbing the growth of federal health care spending and other mandatory programs, the plan also will restrain discretionary spending. That would come through extending spending caps through 2024 and possibly by lowering proposed discretionary spending below the post-sequester caps in the 2011 deficit reduction agreement (PL 112-25) after 2015.
From a technical standpoint, the growing cost of spending in programs actually works to the advantage of balancing the budget, budget experts say. Proposing the repeal of the health care law, for example, would save more in 2024, the last year of the upcoming budget plan, than it would have saved in 2023, the last year of the previous budget.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.