House GOP Plan Kicks Off Big Week For Budget Wonks

House budget chief and former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan unveils the House GOP budget plan Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats will do the same. For more on the GOP plan, Renee Montagne speaks with NPR's Tamara Keith.

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You have made it to Tuesday, ladies and gentlemen. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. This is a big week in Washington, D.C. for budget wonks. House Budget Committee Chairman and former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan unveiled his budget plan this morning. Tomorrow, Senate Democrats will do the same. Last night, Senate Democrats also introduced their version of a stopgap funding bill to keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year.

To sort through all of this, we are joined now by NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith. Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, let's start with the House Republican budget. Paul Ryan has promised it would balance in a decade, and in fact, it apparently does. His last budget did not come into balance until 2040. So, what's going on here?

KEITH: This budget spells out $4.6 trillion dollars in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. And towards the end of that window, it does come into balance. And the surprising thing is that it isn't all that different from the last two Republican budgets. And the reason that's possible is because of the fiscal cliff deal. That raised taxes on the wealthy and generates $600 billion in new revenue over a decade. And Ryan keeps those taxes in place. He gets the rest of the way there by extending caps on discretionary spending for another couple of years and requiring federal employees to make larger pension contributions.

MONTAGNE: And remind us about those previous House Republican budgets. What do they call for and compare that a bit to what's in this one.

KEITH: All of the things I am about to tell you were in past budgets and are in this year's budget as well. The biggest item is shifting Medicare to what Ryan calls premium support. Ryan says this would save Medicare for future generations, Democrats say it would destroy Medicare as we know it. The budget says it would save hundreds of billions of dollars by turning Medicaid and food stamps over to the states. It calls for tax reform. It doesn't spell out the details of how that would work. But, basically, eliminate loopholes, and then lower tax rates. It would undo the cuts to defense in the sequester. In fact, this budget calls for spending more on defense than last year's Ryan plan.

And there are some other items that you could put in the category of old favorites for this House GOP majority. It calls for the repeal of the president's healthcare law, which would be something like the 33rd time they've voted to repeal it. Then it also approves the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Democrats have used the past two budgets to beat up House Republicans and candidates. This morning, I woke up to an email with the subject line: Paul Ryan has granny issues. That's a reference to the Medicare proposal. And yesterday, Guy Cecil of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said he was looking forward to using this budget as well.

GUY CECIL: There are 14 potential Senate candidates who currently serve in the House who are preparing to walk the plank on the new Republican budget. And this call is just the beginning of our warning to them that we plan on holding all of them accountable.

MONTAGNE: So Democrats are salivating over the political opportunities that they see in the House Republican budget. Do Republicans feel the same way about the Senate budget, the Democratic budget, that's due out tomorrow?

KEITH: Oh, you bet they do. For the past four years, House Republicans have complained that Senate Democrats haven't passed a budget. Now, they are already gleefully pointing out that the Senate budget raises taxes and projects a deficit for years to come.

That budget isn't out yet. I can't tell you what it does or doesn't do. But I can tell you that Democrats are already getting beaten up over it. And this is the point where I should explain that congressional budgets aren't like budgets like we think about them. Really, they're vision documents. The House and Senate versions don't have to come together. The president never signs them. They don't have the force of law. They're really just blueprints - 90-page, color glossy vision documents. And so, of course, both sides are using these documents to beat each other up.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, let's turn to the Senate's continuing resolution. That's the bill that would keep the government funded for the rest of the year.

KEITH: Yes. Last night, the senators introduced a bipartisan plan to keep the government funded. This is a response to a House version that passed last week. And it keeps the top-line spending number the same. It actually locks in the automatic across-the-board spending cuts of the sequester. But is gives additional wiggle room to a number of departments, actually more government agencies than the House version.

The real important thing here, though, is that it is bipartisan, which means it's likely that this is not going to blow up or risk a government shutdown.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you, as always.

KEITH: Thank you.


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