The House GOP's official budget document leans overwhelmingly on slashing programs used by lower-income Americans, shifts Medicare to a voucher program, and cuts taxes for the country's wealthiest. Illinois' Republican Congressional delegation is on board. Mostly.
For the most part, the members of the House of Representatives from Illinois are pretty excited when it comes to the "Path To Prosperity," Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's fiscal year 2012 budget proposal. The document purports to close the federal deficit by radically restructuring the social safety net and slashing tax rates for the wealthiest earners in the U.S. It claims unrealistic projections about future economic growth the plan would produce and would drastically reduce federal spending for everything outside of defense, health care, and Social Security.
The political implications of Ryan's plan are just starting to come into view, but you can bet that the candidates the Democratic Party fields against some of these House members next year will focus laser-like on the GOP rep's support for the Path To Prosperity, and especially on Ryan's ideas for Medicare. President Obama laid down a basic marker about the program and social spending in general in his speech yesterday, setting the tone for next year's House races. Here's what Obama said:
I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society. I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves. We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.
Meanwhile, many Republican voters, according to a nationwide poll Gallup released on April 13, simply aren't in favor of any significant changes to Medicare. In all, 28 percent of Republican voters told Gallup they only want "minor changes" and a full third of GOP voters think the federal government should do nothing to try to control health care costs. Take a look at the last row in this chart (H/T):
That attitude should make for some interesting town hall meetings about the Ryan plan back in GOP districts in Illinois and around the country.
Before we get to what the state's GOP House reps are saying about the Path to Prosperity, let's back up and review three of the plan's top points.
Ryan calls for cutting the top marginal income tax rate to 25 percent -- a generous 10 percent cut for the nation's very wealthiest earners, who are already benefiting from tax breaks ushered in during ex-President George W. Bush's tenure in office and continued by Congress and Obama during the lame duck Congress this winter.
As noted by Progress Illinois yesterday, the plan would shift Medicaid funding to a block grant structure that would diminish over time, likely forcing states to slash spending and drop low-income earners and the disabled from the rolls. Here's how the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office described (PDF) the effect of the Ryan pitch for the joint federal-state program for the poor and disabled:
Federal payments for Medicaid under the proposal would be substantially smaller than currently projected amounts. States would have additional flexibility to design and manage their Medicaid programs, and they might achieve greater efficiencies in the delivery of care than under current law. Even with additional flexibility, however, the large projected reduction in payments would probably require states to decrease payments to Medicaid providers, reduce eligibility for Medicaid, provide less extensive coverage to beneficiaries, or pay more themselves than would be the case under current law.
Medicare as we know it would be dismantled under the Ryan plan, starting with everyone who turns 65 in 2022. Beneficiaries, rather than have guaranteed health insurance, would get "premium support" so they could buy care from private providers. The support would grow with inflation but, of course, health care growth outpaces that rate. And so seniors would bear an increasing amount of health care costs in their old age. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, analyzing the CBO data, says the typical 65-year-old in 2022 would pay $12,000 "out-of-pocket for his or her health care spending rather than just about $6,000 as would be the case if traditional Medicare were to continue." The Center for American Progress made this chart of the new burden on seniors:
"Under the proposal, most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system," the CBO's report states.
In all, the plan leans overwhelmingly on cuts to services and programs lower-income people use. But, as noted above, Illinois' Republican delegation is largely in love with Ryan's vision. Let's go through their responses below.
We've sorted their responses to the Ryan plan into three categories: All In, In But Still Thinking, and Waiting For A Response.
6th District, Peter Roskam
Roskam, as chief deputy GOP whip, is going long on the Ryan plan, releasing web videos and talking it up in the press. In a release, he claims the plan will "save" Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. "I applaud Chairman Ryan for his work on this important budget," he said.
8th District, Joe Walsh
In an April 5 interview with Bloomberg TV, Tea Party favorite Walsh said this about Ryan's plan:
This is a vision that Paul Ryan put forth today that will go a long way toward changing these programs, saving them for future generations and getting the government off of our backs so that the American people can grow again.
10th District, Bob Dold
Rep. Dold, representing the relatively moderate North Shore -- Obama carried the district in 2008 -- nonetheless called Ryan’s budget "responsible," according to the National Journal: “House Republicans put forward a responsible budget that stops spending money we don’t have, helps spur job creation today, and lifts the crushing burden of debt."
13th District, Judy Biggert
No plan that cuts spending will be universally popular, but there is much to like in this budget. It protects the Medicare and Social Security benefits of our seniors, it simplifies the tax code, it ends the bailouts of Fannie and Freddie, and it places the highest priority on job creation and job training. In fact, the Heritage Center for Data Analysis estimates that it would create one million private-sector jobs next year alone. Most importantly, it reduces our crushing debt over a realistic time period and forces the government to live within its means.
18th District, Aaron Schock
Perhaps covering himself politically with seniors in his district, Rep. Schock pointed out in his hosanna to the Ryan plan than people currently 55 and up wouldn't see any changes to their present and future health care benefit:
The House Budget
Committee proposal put forth today is a road map to controlling spending
and bringing back stability to our economy. It requires disciplined
control of federal spending and begins reform efforts to strengthen the
soundness of entitlement programs. It does so with no changes to these
programs for people 55 years old and higher.
19th District, John Shimkus
Climate change denier Rep. Shimkus has a link to the "Path to Prosperity" page in the dead center of his website.
In But Still Thinking About It
11th District, Adam Kinzinger
Freshman GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger expressed some hesitation about the plan, telling ABC the following: “I'm definitely leaning towards doing it. This is a very bold vision that I think has been outlined. It's politically risky. There's no doubt about it. This is a risky vote,” he said. “But the American people and the people in the 11th District did not send me here to make easy votes, to do politically easy things. They sent me here to make tough decisions. And this is it.”
15th District, Tim Johnson
Veteran Rep. Tim Johnson had a lot of good things to say about the Path to Prosperity but, interestingly, singled out defense cuts, usually a verboten idea in GOP circles, as something he'd like to see more of. To quote Johnson at length:
I believe this is a truly ground-breaking plan that makes a bold departure from the mistakes of the past and starts us on a road to recovery,” Rep. Johnson said. “I would urge my colleagues and the American people to look on this not as a Republican plan or a political maneuver. It is simply a clear-eyed and common-sense approach to addressing a staggering debt-load, irresponsible spending of taxpayers’ money and an economy that continues to stumble.
These reforms will cut spending by $6.2 trillion, return non-security discretionary spending to below 2008 levels, rewrite and simplify our tax code, and reform and protect health and retirement security plans for future generations. If we are successful with this approach, our entire national debt of more than $14 trillion will be eliminated by 2060.
Not all of us will agree on every proposal. For example, I believe defense spending be curtailed more, but it’s important to note that no part of our Leviathan federal budget is spared, and none should be. Annual trillion-dollar- plus deficits of the Obama Administration are destroying our way of life. I certainly intend to be part of the process of improving on it, but given our divided government, it’s unrealistic to expect the final result will be all that any of us want.
17th District, Bobby Schilling
Schilling was elected last year to represent a district that had long sent labor-oriented Democrats to Congress. And Schilling isn't completely sold on his party's plan for the federal budget.
“I commend Chairman Ryan for leading in a way the administration has not – by formulating a proposal that takes our trillion-dollar deficit seriously," Rep. Schilling said in a statement. "I am still looking over the details of the Chairman’s proposal and though I may not agree with every proposed cut, I am glad an open dialogue about our nation’s fiscal crisis is taking place. We have a responsibility to cut spending, bolster economic growth and job creation, and leave our children and grandchildren a better future and a better standard of living.”
Waiting For A Response
Progress Illinois has left messages with 16th District Rep. Don Manzullo and 14th District Rep. Randy Hultgren. We visited their websites and searched the internet for statements about Ryan's pitch, but couldn't find anything (though Manzullo has tweeted a couple of links to conservatives who are defending the plan).
And during an interview this morning on WROK, Manzullo hammered President Obama's budget pitch with the hosts, but seemed to hedge about his own position on the Path to Prosperity, starting setences with "Ryan says ..." on more than one occasion.
In any case, we'll know more soon: the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on Ryan's plan tomorrow.