WASHINGTON – Chris Collins met with some tough criticism during his campaign for Congress last fall when he said the federal budget should be balanced in 10 years – but now that’s exactly what House Republicans are proposing.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Tuesday unveiled a federal budget proposal for fiscal 2014 that, if enacted, would trim federal spending by $4.6 trillion through 2023.
But that budget is built in part on two things Collins railed against: Medicare cuts and a tax increase. And it includes controversial proposals, such as the partial conversion of Medicare into a voucher system, that have proved to be politically unpalatable for years.
Nevertheless, Collins, R-Clarence, and other House Republicans widely praised the new Ryan budget plan, which largely echoes similar proposals he has made for the past two years that went nowhere.
“I campaigned on the need to balance the budget in 10 years,” Collins said. “This budget does just that. And a lot of naysayers said this wouldn’t happen.”
Then-Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, a Hamburg Democrat whom Collins defeated in November, called Collins’ budget proposal “irresponsible” because it was lacking in details.
Ryan filled in those details Tuesday. Among them was a provision – first included in the Obama health reform law – preserving more than $700 billion in Medicare savings over a decade, tied largely to lower payments to insurers who offer Medicare Advantage plans.
Collins sharply criticized those cuts during his campaign, saying the cuts could cause insurers to stop offering the Medicare Advantage programs. He said Tuesday he spoke about his continuing concerns about them in a conversation with Ryan this week.
Ryan replied that he had heard worries about the Medicare Advantage cuts from other lawmakers, and as a result he included a provision in his budget proposal that allows the funding to be restored if compensating cuts can be made elsewhere in the federal budget.
“This gave me an answer to my concern,” Collin said, even though the specifics have to be worked out later.
He added: “I’ll certainly take a fair amount of credit” for the addition of that provision to the budget.
Ryan also included in his budget $3.2 trillion in new federal revenues stemming from the tax increases included in the “fiscal cliff” deal between President Obama and congressional Republicans earlier this year – new taxes that Ryan, Collins and most other Republicans had harshly criticized as a drag on the economy.
But Collins said he saw no problem with the inclusion of that new tax money, given that the Ryan plan promises to redraw the tax code. Under the Ryan tax plan, which does not include any details, many deductions would be cut or eliminated, and the current array of tax rates would be replaced by just two: 10 percent and 25 percent.
The simplification of the tax code and those lower tax rates will “get the investment going” in the economy, Collins said.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, couldn’t disagree more.
He criticized the Ryan budget for cutting $5.7 trillion out of transportation funding over a decade, funding that he said would lead to new jobs.
“Paul Ryan’s budget will not grow the economy,” Higgins said. “Robust investments in scientific research, education and infrastructure grow your economy.”
Higgins also noted that the Ryan spending plan turns Medicaid into a block grant, meaning New York could lose federal funding that now supports health care not only for the poor but also for many seniors in nursing homes.
“It would have a very negative impact on New York State,” he said.
Ryan once again proposes turning Medicare, in part, into a voucher system. Ryan said that plan would save the health care plan for the elderly from financial collapse, but Higgins said it would mean that health care would be priced out of the reach of some seniors.
Ryan’s budget was the first volley in a new round of fiscal wars that will continue today, as Senate Democrats put forth their spending plan for the year.
As for Obama, he won’t introduce his budget plan until April 8 – two months later than usual.
Despite their deep disagreements on the Ryan budget, Collins and Higgins agreed on one thing: The GOP spending plan isn’t likely to make it into law.
“It’s putting a line in the sand from the Republican standpoint,” Collins said.
“You’re not going to have a budget,” said Higgins, predicting that the federal government will lurch from one fiscal deadline to another through the next fiscal year.