The proposal would slash spending and overhaul health programs as part of a strategy to rein in the national debt.
WASHINGTON - House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious and politically perilous plan to resize the federal government and stem the $14 trillion national debt by slashing spending on domestic programs and fundamentally overhauling government health programs for the elderly and the poor.
The 2012 budget blueprint would not touch Social Security, the single largest federal program, which provides income support to nearly 60 million seniors, disabled people and others. But with the cost of benefits expected to exceed revenues this year, Republicans say they would enact legislation to force President Obama to propose changes to "restore balance to the fund." Suggested reforms include adjusting the retirement age to reflect longer life spans and slowing the growth in benefits for higher-income workers.
All told, the document, titled the "Path to Prosperity," proposes to reduce spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade, compared with the budget plan that Obama put out in February.
Despite its vast ambitions, however, the blueprint drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., underscores the tremendous difficulty of mopping up the nation's enormous tide of red ink.
For fiscal 2012, for example, Ryan's plan would authorize $3.5 trillion in total spending, leaving a budget deficit next year of just less than $1 trillion. That's slightly lower than the deficit projected under current law, but it's still a significant budget gap.
Annual deficits would dwindle to less than $400 billion by the end of the decade, a dramatic improvement over Obama's budget proposal. But even Ryan's plan would take nearly 30 years to wipe out deficits. More deficits mean more borrowing, and the national debt would keep increasing under Ryan's plan, to more than $16 trillion next year and more than $23 trillion by 2021.
Because the economy would keep growing, the debt would diminish as a percentage of gross domestic product, an important measure of financial stability that could help the nation avert a debt crisis. But that considerable achievement might be too nuanced for the most conservative members of the House Republican caucus, several of whom berated Obama's budget director in February for failing to offer a plan that would end additional borrowing.
Republican congressional leaders, however, praised Ryan's proposal Tuesday.
"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," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Ryan's plan "would put us on a path to reducing the national debt. It would strengthen the social safety net so we can keep the promises we've made to America's seniors. ... And it will repeal last year's health-care law, which will raise health care costs, lead to fewer jobs, and which Americans have rejected."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., blasted Ryan's proposal on Twitter Tuesday, accusing Republicans of seeking to eliminate "guaranteed benefits for seniors under Medicare and calling it "a path to poverty for America's seniors & children and a road to riches for big oil."
Ryan plans to open a voting session Wednesday on his 2012 blueprint in the House Budget Committee. If approved, the measure would then go to the House floor, where GOP aides declined to speculate on its fate.
If approved by the House, the blueprint would go to the Senate, where the Democratic majority is unlikely to accept much of Ryan's vision for the nation's fiscal future. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is instead at work with five senators of both parties on a strategy to reduce the debt by trimming funds for entitlement programs less dramatically than Ryan's plan while raising additional revenue through an overhaul of the tax code.
Whatever its fate in Congress, the Ryan plan will serve as a statement of the grandest ambitions of the Republican Party and set the terms of the debate for the 2012 presidential campaign.