SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
A busy week in Congress. Lawmakers passed a spending plan that keeps the government open the rest of this fiscal year, and the House of Representatives approved a financial blueprint for the coming fiscal year. House Republicans passed the new budget yesterday without a single Democrat voting for it. Its prospect, of course, in the Democratic-controlled Senate are dim but it will likely provide lots of fodder for next year's campaigns, as NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: House Republicans are not all that crazy about the budget approved on Thursday. It was, after all, a compromise with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown. Fifty-nine Republicans, about a quarter of the GOP caucus, voted against it, and Speaker John Boehner had to rely on the votes of Democrats to get it passed.
Yesterday, Boehner portrayed that budget as an opening for Republicans to do what they really want to do.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio, Speaker of the House): It was an imperfect bill but it was a positive step that has cleared the decks and allowed us to focus on cutting trillions of dollars, not just billions.
WELNA: And that's exactly what the Republican budget for next year does; it cuts nearly $6 trillion in spending over the next 10 years. It chops 10 percentage points off the top tax rates. The new health care law gets axed in the budget and perhaps most significantly the document proposes transforming Medicare into a system in which elderly people would buy private health insurance with a government-issued voucher.
Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says the plan, which would take effect 10 years from now, is all protecting Medicare.
Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin, Chair, Budget Committee): We save Medicare, prevented bankruptcy, and what does the other side do? They sit by and watch the program go bankrupt.
CROWD: (Chanting) Hands off our Medicare. Hands off our Medicare. Hands off our Medicare.
WELNA: Yesterday, outside the Capitol, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led a small rally denouncing the GOP budget's plan for Medicare. Later, she spoke on the House floor.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California, Minority Leader): I want to say to my Republican colleagues, do you realize that your leadership is asking you to the cast a vote today to abolish Medicare as we know it, because that is the vote that we have.
WELNA: But Majority Leader Eric Cantor casts the budget's overhaul of Medicare as a profile in courage.
Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia, Majority Leader): While it may be seen by some as politically risky. We Republicans are willing to lead because to be frank, complacency is not an option.
WELNA: Arizona Republican Jeff Flake plans to push the Medicare voucher plan as he campaigns for a Senate seat, and he expects that will make him the target of political attacks.
Representative JEFF FLAKE (Republican, Arizona): I expect Democrats to try to use scare tactics, as they have before. I fully expect that. I just don't expect them to be successful.
WELNA: Ohio Republican Steve LaTourette did have some misgivings but he still voted for the GOP budget.
Representative STEVE LATOURETTE (Republican, Ohio): I'm not crazy about the way, you know, what, how Congressman Ryan's vision of what Medicare should look like in the odd years. It doesn't mean it's going to look like that.
WELNA: Democrats think Republicans have grossly misjudged public sentiment.
Representative ROB ANDREWS (Democrat, New Jersey): There is overwhelming public opposition to ending Medicare.
WELNA: New Jersey Democrat Rob Andrews.
Mr. ANDREWS: It cuts across party lines, class lines, geographical lines. And I think as long as we Democrats come up with a credible alternative to help restrain the deficit we win this argument.
WELNA: But the argument is not only about next year's budget. Of even greater consequence is the fast-approaching deadline for raising the debt ceiling. Speaker Boehner said yesterday that Republicans won't do it that without getting something big in return.
Mr. BOEHNER: There will be no debt limit increase unless it's accompanied by serious spending cuts and real budget reforms.
WELNA: But even under the GOP budget, the debt ceiling would have to be raised, since it too runs huge deficits for many years to come.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.