House Budget Proposes Cuts to Medicare, Taxes on the Rich

Paul Ryan. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Apparently, House Republicans believe that the reason Trumpcare just died without a Senate vote — after becoming the least popular piece of major legislation in living memory — was that it didn’t condemn nearly enough of their own voters to preventable deaths for the sake of padding the passive income of the one percent.

On Tuesday morning, Paul Ryan’s caucus unveiled a blueprint for the controlled demolition of the welfare state, which they’re calling “the 2018 federal budget.” The resolution articulates a plan for balancing the budget over 10 years – one that involves slashing $500 billion from Medicare and $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and Obamacare, according to the Associated Press. However, those cuts appear to be largely theoretical – measures that the party has made an abstract commitment to passing in future years. The actual instructions for this year’s budget require a mere $203 billion in cuts to entitlement programs over the coming decade, along with $130 billion-worth of reductions in non-defense discretionary spending. Such cuts would reduce food assistance for the working poor; roll back regulations on Wall Street by stripping $14 billion from enforcement; and slash benefits for the federal workforce.

The House would then use the consequent savings — plus rosy assumptions about economic growth — to finance a buildup in military spending and massive tax breaks for the rich. That last bit is the primary purpose of the resolution, as the budget lays out the reconciliation instructions that would allow the Senate to pass tax reform without Democratic votes.

“In past years, our proposals had little chance of becoming a reality because we faced a Democratic White House,” House Budget Committee chair Diane Black said Tuesday. “But now with a Republican Congress and a Republican administration, now is the time to put forward a governing document with real solutions to address our biggest challenges.”

This budget is, of course, horrifying for progressives. But it should also spook any conservative who wasn’t in a coma during the health-care fight. The GOP just tried and failed to roll back some of the most vulnerable parts of the welfare state — Obamacare tax credits that quietly benefit a small fraction of the population, and a Medicaid program that helps the most politically disempowered economic class in the country. Now, House Republicans have concluded that realizing their core ambitions — a larger military, radically lower taxes, and a smaller deficit — requires them to come after the most popular parts of the safety net, ones that disproportionately benefit their own elderly base, and which our GOP president promised to protect.

In other words: This budget makes a strong case that the Republican Party’s agenda is fundamentally unworkable.

As does the bitter, internecine fight it’s already sparked. Moderate Republicans are decrying the bill’s austerity, even as House conservatives demand that the party implement more of its draconian, long-term vision in the here-and-now.

While the House moderates rolled over during the Trumpcare fight, there’s reason to think they’ll be harder to appease this time round. For one thing, the president just taught them that he is perfectly comfortable with throwing them under the bus. For another, the moderates have basic political and procedural realities on their side: The 2011 Budget Control Act places a hard limit on annual defense and domestic discretionary spending. The House budget would exceed the statutory cap on military spending by tens of billions of dollars. Republicans can’t exceed those caps through reconciliation. Which is to say, unless they’re willing to abolish the filibuster, they need Democratic votes. And no Democrat will want to cooperate on a budget this draconian.

Nor, by all indications, will 50 Senate Republicans.

Obamacare survived its death panel thanks to a whole host of forces, among them, the tirelessness of progressive advocates; the incoherence of the Republicans’ health-care vision; the reliance of the GOP on rural areas dependent on Medicaid; and the mysterious workings of the beneficent truck gods.

But no cause of Trumpcare’s demise is more ominous for Republicans, going forward, than the Senate GOP’s newfound squeamishness about upward redistribution.

After months of scathing headlines about how their bill took benefits from the poor to give tax breaks for the rich, Senate Republicans cried uncle. Or, more precisely, played dumb: A motley crew of moderate and conservative GOP lawmakers demanded to know how this capital-gains tax for the rich had gotten into their “patient-centered” health-care bill. Tennessee’s Bob Corker summed up the dissenters winning argument thusly: “In the initial draft bill if you looked at lower-income citizens … they were going backwards. And at the same time the 3.8 percent tax on the wealthy was being done away with. That is not an equilibrium that is appropriate.”

That’s a reasonable, politically keen sentiment. And Republicans can implement approximately none of their agenda without disavowing it.

House Budget Proposes Cuts to Medicare, Taxes on the Rich