Co-Author Defends GOP Budget Plan

Republican Congressman Todd Young helped draft Rep. Paul Ryan's 2013 budget that passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday. Congressman Young speaks with guest host Jacki Lyden about the budget plan and Democrats' opposition to it, including calls that the plan would hurt programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

I'm Jacki Lyden and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away today. Coming up, you may have heard of the Catholic group Opus Dei. Recent press reports have cited GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum's closeness to it. Critics say that Opus Dei has an extreme agenda. Others say it simply has a strong mission. We hear from one of its followers in just a few minutes. But first, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's controversial budget plan for 2013 sailed through the House of Representatives yesterday. Democrats say it rips up the social safety net.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: This is absolutely so irresponsible, so out of touch with the needs of the American people and their kitchen-table concerns that they have, but it's a big day for Big Oil and wealthy people and the rest of that, and that's who they're here to serve.

LYDEN: That was Representative Nancy Pelosi the House minority leader. While the budget aims to cut trillions more than President Obama's budget, it also reduces income taxes with the very biggest cuts for the wealthy. Many are calling this more a blueprint for the November election than a budget, not a single Democrat voted for it. To hear more about what's behind the plan we've called on someone who helped to craft it. Joining us now is Congressman Todd Young, a Republican member of the House budget committee. He's a freshman member of the Congress and he represents Indiana's 9th district. Welcome to the program.

REPRESENTATIVE TODD YOUNG: Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to present a different perspective from your opening there.

LYDEN: According to the center on budget and policy priorities, this budget would cut $3.3 trillion from low income programs over the next ten years, but it would not raise taxes on extremely wealthy people by even a dollar. In fact, it reduces their taxes still more. How do you explain that?

YOUNG: Actually, probably our first priority would be on ensuring the American people remain safe was to ensure that the social safety net remains intact. Right now, as you're well aware, programs like Medicare and Medicaid on the current path are unsustainable. We think it's very important that the poor and the middle class continue to enjoy these programs, so we've come up with ways to make them sustainable into the future as compared to the president's budget which keeps them on an unsustainable path.

So, for example with Medicare, that program within twelve years - the hospital portion of that program will run out of sufficient funds to pay out all benefits. And we have come up with a way adopting the features of the Medicare prescription drug program and applying those features to the entire Medicare program so that today's seniors and future seniors can continue to enjoy it. And I will say with the example of Medicare we exempt from any changes whatsoever people age 55 and older because we understand there will be apprehension among America's seniors about these changes and we want to have sufficient time for people to be able to adjust their expectations.

LYDEN: Let me talk here about Medicaid. The biggest cut here goes to that. Republican governors have made no secret that they say they spend too much of their state budgets on this program. Twenty six of them also opposed the Obama healthcare act. What do you propose low income people do for their healthcare?

YOUNG: Yeah, you know, I think enough of the American people, as do my Republican colleagues, that should we return control, administrative control of this program back to the states giving state legislatures and governors more flexibility to manage this program, we think there will be enormous cost savings. So, with 50 laboratories of democracy out there, given block grants for Medicaid monies, we actually believe that the program will continue to not just function but thrive.

LYDEN: The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which I'm quoting again, says that by cutting 810 billion through 2022, one-fifth of current spending being cut, this would actually lead states to drop coverage for an estimated 14 million to 28 million people.

YOUNG: You know, I have absolutely no idea how the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, which you've cited numerous times, comes up with their estimates. I'll tell you there are many other organizations out there that believe this budget will lead to enormous boost in economic growth, and you know what low income individuals need more than anything else is a job. And if we can create the atmosphere where private sector jobs can once again be created, we'll have fewer people demanding programs like Medicaid. So, I think the analysis of the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities fails to take that into account.

LYDEN: Is this budget a blueprint for the fall elections? Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has already endorsed it.

YOUNG: Well, I think this budget puts out a contrasting vision to the president's budget. We've been very specific about how we intend to preserve important programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, and keep the American people safe as wars continue to be fought overseas and the world remains a dangerous place, while keeping taxes low and growing the economy at a faster rate. The president, in contrast, has been very vague about his budget. And I would just say that the Senate needs to also take up a budget.

It's been over 1,100 days since the Democrat-controlled Senate has picked up a budget, and I think the American people expect us to be detailed about our solutions for the country.

LYDEN: This budget goes beyond the agreement that was worked out with significant acrimony last summer, that Congress would come together on spending cuts and that sequestration would go into effect and the defense budget would be cut if it didn't. This budget actually increases defense spending, but with so much cut from other areas and social programs for example, do you really think that you can get bipartisan support for something like this?

YOUNG: Well, I hope so. I mean, you know, our constituents asked us to come to Washington and make the arguments on a for the United States House of Representatives and for exactly what we stand for and what direction we want to put the country in and not everyone's doing that right now. So, I still hope to persuade others, and ultimately, if we don't persuade our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, then I hope many of them are replaced with people that are prepared to make tough decisions and do the things necessary to get this economy moving again and create jobs.

LYDEN: So, that suggests that it is to some degree a political budget. You just mentioned colleagues being replaced.

YOUNG: Oh sure, these things do absolutely have political implications and they should. You know, a budget lays out one's comprehensive vision for what government should look like at the federal level as compared to all the resources that need to be used to create jobs in the private economy. And so, we're not hiding anything on the Republican side, and so it's important that others get specific about exactly what they want to do. Do they want to, for example, preserve Obamacare?

We actually put forward in our budget repealing the president's healthcare law. Do they want to preserve Medicare and Medicaid or do they want to keep them on an unsustainable path? Do they want to increase taxes or do they want to keep them steady, as we do in our budget? So, these are - it's a contrast of two visions and ultimately the American people can and should decide.

LYDEN: The Senate is not expected to approve this plan. In fact, it's basically said its dead on arrival. So, what's your next step?

YOUNG: So, our next step is to take it to the American people. You know, ultimately I think the Senate will act if enough people speak up and demand some changes. They may not act until after the November elections, and if that's the case, at least we will affect change by going out there and making some arguments for our vision of the country.

LYDEN: Todd Young is a Republican member of Congress who represents Indiana's 9th district. That's the southeastern part of the state and he joined us on the line from his home in Bloomington. Congressman Young, thank you very much for being with us.

YOUNG: Thanks so much for having me.

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