War of words over new GOP budget plan

The Republican budget plan rolled out yesterday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, D-Wisc., has brought a flood of rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, particularly where Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are concerned.

From U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah:

“The status quo is unsustainable. Our over $14 trillion debt is a threat to the future of our nation. Spending has been out-of-control for far too long. Our entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – look more like an empty promise that our children and grandchildren will pay for, but will never see.

“In February, we saw the White House’s response: a budget that taxes, borrows, and spends too much – demonstrating a complete failure of leadership to confront our spending-fueled debt crisis. In contrast, Paul Ryan has put serious ideas on the table to reform Medicare and Medicaid, streamline our tax code, cut spending, and confront our debt. He rightly includes a proposal to kick Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac off the government dole, fully repeal the budget-busting $2.6 trillion health law, and extend the 2001 and 2003 tax relief permanently, while reducing our corporate tax rate.

“The White House and its Capitol Hill allies need to demonstrate real leadership and join Republicans in working to solve the tremendous fiscal challenges facing our nation. Unfortunately, what we are seeing from the other side is a defense of an unsustainable status quo and political attacks on Republican ideas. That’s not the kind of leadership the American people are asking for.

“As Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, we need to consider all ideas to fix our broken entitlements, cut spending and reform the overly-burdensome tax code. We know that the Medicaid expansion in the $2.6 trillion health law threatens to bankrupt both states and the federal government. We know that cutting over a half-trillion dollars from a nearly bankrupt Medicare system to create new entitlements and expand existing ones is the height of fiscal irresponsibility. We know that Social Security will not exist in the future if we fail to reform it now. We know our tax code is too complex, threatens our ability to compete in the world, and needs to be overhauled.”

Democrats contend future Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries are now being asked to suffer because Republicans have forced the extension of tax cuts for millionaires and because of the nation’s profligate war spending over the past decade.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Ryan’s plan “would give huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, all paid for by destroying Medicare for our seniors and denying health care to our most vulnerable children.”

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said Republicans have “reneged on their commitment to Medicare. They don’t believe that senior citizens and people with disabilities have a right to guaranteed health benefits. Instead, they will turn the health of seniors and people with disabilities over to private insurers. Say goodbye to secure health care when you need it most. That’s what this budget means to anyone in America who hopes to grow old.”

Stark’s office today cited an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that says a typical Medicare beneficiary would spend more for health care under Ryan’s plan because private plans would cost more than traditional Medicare and the government’s contribution would grow more slowly than health care costs.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said:

“The American people understand we can’t continue spending money we don’t have, especially when doing so is making it harder to create jobs and get our economy back on track. The Administration has put forward a budget for next year that raises taxes by $1.5 trillion and is silent on our debt crisis, a surefire recipe for destroying jobs. Our budget will help spur job creation today, stop spending money we don’t have, and lift the crushing burden of debt that threatens our children’s future. Our budget also recognizes Americans are concerned not just about how much government spends, but how government spends it, and keeps our pledge to set strict budget caps that limit federal spending on annual basis. Most importantly, this budget shows families and small businesses that we’re serious about dealing with America’s spending illness so we can put our country on a path to prosperity.

“Chairman Ryan and the members of the Budget Committee have done an excellent job putting together a budget worthy of the American people. I hope every American concerned about our country’s future will take a look at it.”

More from your local lawmakers, after the jump…

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“Budgets are not just dollars and cents; they are moral documents that signal who we are and what we believe in. The budget that Chairman Ryan and Republicans unveiled today is an attack on low- and middle-income people and a bold attempt to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid.

“This Republican proposal confirms that they have every intention to take apart Medicare and Medicaid piece-by-piece. And they want to cut the deficit that they helped create by draining support from vital programs and services that millions of people depend on. For example, Republicans want to tie eligibility for food stamps assistance to job training while, at the same time, threatening to cut over $4 billion in funding for job training. This proposal is not serious about cutting the deficit or bolstering our nation’s economic recovery.

“Republicans want to pay for their reckless tax giveaways to millionaires on the backs of our nation’s most vulnerable working families, seniors, children, and our middle class – and that’s wrong. This plan is a ‘Roadmap to Ruin’ for our neediest communities and our country, and I will work to ensure that we protect our nation’s most vulnerable populations, who are already bearing the brunt of these difficult economic times.”

From Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove:

“The House Republican proposal to destroy Medicare is a feeding frenzy for the insurance industry sharks, and every American that has ever hoped to retire with dignity is what’s for dinner. The hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare Americans previously set aside in preparation for our golden years is now being set aside for insurance industry profits.

“Republicans in the House are trying to destroy Medicare – eliminating one of the twin planks of our retirement security. I do not understand why anyone with the public interest in mind would sabotage an effective, efficient, affordable, and popular program.

“If this becomes law, all American seniors will be forced to choose between higher premiums, substantially less coverage, or no coverage at all. If you’re an adult who has been paying into Medicare all your life, House Republicans are telling you, ‘Tough luck; we are no longer concerned about your health when you retire.’

“To responsibly reduce the deficit, we must address runaway health care costs. Instead of controlling costs, this GOP budget merely shifts the burden onto economically vulnerable seniors.

“By contrast, the Affordable Care Act has many provisions that will slow the rise in health care costs for both private and public health services. Unfortunately, the Republicans want to repeal these necessary cost controls while simultaneously destroying Medicare. The Republican budget plan is simply unhealthy for America.”

(UPDATE @ 3:48 P.M.: Garamendi just announced he’ll host a telephone town hall at 9 a.m. tomorrow with as many senior citizens from his district as can be reached, “focused on the GOP plan to destroy Medicare, budget negotiations, and what constituents need to know about a the possibility of a government shutdown.”)

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, issued a release detailing some other cuts Ryan’s budget would make. In higher education, for example, Pell Grants would be cut for all 9.4 million students eligible next year; for the neediest students, Pell Grants would be cut by at least $819 and as much as $3,960; and at least 180,000 and as many as 1 million students would be kicked out of the Pell Grant program altogether, Miller said.

About 218,000 low-income children and families would be removed from the Head Start early childhood education program; about 16,000 Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms would close; about 55,000 teachers and related staff would lose their jobs; and about 170,000 families trying to find jobs or to stay employed would lose childcare, Miller said. In K-12 education, about 2,400 schools serving nearly a million low-income students would lose funding and nearly 10,000 teachers and aides could lose their jobs, he said. And Miller said job-training programs for those out of work or attaining new skills would be dramatically cut: “career scholarships” would be created, similar to a past GOP proposal that would have gutted training programs in favor of a $2000-$3000 training account. The actual average cost of these training programs is approximately $12,000, with approximately $7,500 covered by the Workforce Investment Act today, Miller said.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, called it “one of the most callous and reckless proposals I’ve seen during 18 years in Congress:”

“At every turn, the Republicans seek to protect the powerful while giving the back of their hand to the most vulnerable Americans.

“Chairman Ryan and the House majority are asking sacrifice from seniors who need health care and children who need good schools. Meanwhile, the oil companies and other wealthy special interests, like corporations that send jobs overseas, continue to make out like bandits.

“Destroying Medicare and cutting critical education investments is a path to American weakness, not prosperity. Their budget does nothing to create jobs and help the nation out of this brutal recession.

“The fact is that we can reduce spending and rein in the deficit without hurting people. We can start by bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and ending the military operation in Libya. I will fight the Ryan proposal with every ounce of energy I have, and I will continue to promote a budget that invests in people, strengthens the middle class, creates jobs, and remains faithful to American values.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.