House Passes Ryan's 2012 Budget Plan

The House passed a 2012 budget resolution Friday in a partisan vote of 235-193 with four Republicans dissenting. The blueprint, put forward by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, would reduce spending by trillions of dollars over the next decade, in part by overhauling Medicare and Medicaid. It's a non-starter in the Senate — but a benchmark for the conservative majority in the House, which will have to convince voters that fiscal discipline trumps a popular entitlement.

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The House of Representatives has adopted a budget plan for 2012 that aims for fiscal discipline over the next decade. Among other things, it calls for dramatic changes in Medicare and Medicaid. House Republican leaders managed to sell the agenda to anxious lawmakers.

But as NPR's Audie Cornish reports, those lawmakers now return to their districts for a recess where they'll have to sell the controversial bill to voters.

AUDIE CORNISH: The bill was expected to pass and it did, on a partisan vote of 235 to 193, with only four Republicans voting no. The architect of the bill is Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who led the debate.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): This budget keeps America exceptional. It preserves its promise for the next generation. Colleagues, this is our defining moment. We must choose this path to prosperity. I yield.

(Soundbite of applause)

CORNISH: But that doesn't mean there weren't a few surprises. First, Democrats startled the GOP on the floor with a parliamentary stunt aimed at getting Republicans to pass an even more conservative budget proposal, one from the Republican Study Committee.

RSC member and Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte.

Representative BOB GOODLATTE (Republican, Virginia): Congressman Ryan's budget proposal is a great start and sets us on a path to bringing the budget into balance. However, that proposal takes 28 years to do so. I support and will vote for his budget, but I'm concerned about what will happen to it if future congresses are not as willing to make the tough choices that are necessary to see this budget passed to completion.

CORNISH: The legislation written by Ryan seeks to trim more than $5.8 trillion over the next 10 years. The proposal would bring tax rates down for individuals and companies. It would also freeze non-defense spending for five years. But it doesn't promise a balanced budget in that time, which irks some conservatives. Still, House Republican leaders insisted there were no divisions.

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): There's been a lot of coverage that all of you have been writing about about the drama of this place.

CORNISH: Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Rep. CANTOR: Well, I can tell you, our conference is united.

CORNISH: Republicans say they know they will need that unity if they're to fend off the coming attacks from Democrats over what's in the plan. The Ryan proposal advocates converting Medicaid into block grants to give states more control. And it would change Medicare into a federally subsidized voucher system so seniors could buy their own insurance on the private market.

It's not expected to get past the Democratic Senate, but it's a battle Democrats like Connecticut Congressman John Larson are itching to get into.

Representative JOHN LARSON (Democrat, Connecticut): They are out to destroy this guaranteed benefit. They are out to destroy Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. There is a time to draw a line in the sand and fight.

CORNISH: Now, the changes Republicans are seeking in Medicare wouldn't apply to those in the system now. It would kick in for people under the age of 55. But seniors like Nettie Hales(ph) of Washington, D.C. were already out with Larson holding Hands Off Medicare signs.

Ms. NETTIE HALES (Protester): Why would you be taking something away that's working? Why do you want to break it? So you can fix it up and fix it up wrong?

CORNISH: But House Speaker John Boehner says he isn't concerned about the potential backlash over the bill.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): If you're 54 and younger, those Americans understand if we don't make changes, the programs won't be there. These are important programs for tens of millions of Americans. And transforming them so they'll be around for our kids and grandkids is as important as anything that we can do here.

CORNISH: So, while the budget battles in the House have ended for now, this vote has set up another round of heated debate going into the next election.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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