U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan today unveiled a revised tax-and-spending proposal that he says would eliminate the deficit within a decade by cutting $4.6 trillion out of a vast swath of federal expenditures.
The budget plan for fiscal year 2014 would cut funding for Medicaid, food stamps, Pell college tuition grants and scores of other programs while sparing the Defense Department and reducing individual and corporate income tax rates. The result, according to his proposal, would be a rapidly shrinking deficit, falling by more than 80% in just two years and disappearing altogether by 2023.
Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who was his party’s vice presidential candidate in 2012, downplayed the severity of the proposed cuts, saying his plan would amount to restraining annual spending increases to 3.4% from what would otherwise be 5%.
“The budget provides an exit ramp from our current mess,” he wrote in the budget plan’s introduction. “The fact is we owe the American people a balanced budget. The less we owe to foreign creditors, the more of our future we will control.”
The plan, which is similar to previous iterations of Ryan’s budgets, will surely be dead on arrival in the Senate, where the majority Democrats have long complained that his proposals take too much from the poor while asking too little of the wealthy.
It will set up yet another budget battle in Washington, where lawmakers are deadlocked over what to do about $85 billion in automatic cuts, known as sequestration, that took effect earlier this month. In addition, they need to agree on separate spending legislation to keep federal agencies operating beyond March 27.
Senate Democrats are preparing to start work on their own budget proposal, which is expected to call for significant tax increases on the wealthy. There is little prospect of an accord between the two chambers on a single plan, which means that Congress probably will go a fourth consecutive year without agreeing on a budget.
Republicans are attempting to seize the rhetorical high ground in the debate over the deficit with their call to eliminate a shortfall currently projected to total nearly $1 trillion in 2023. While economists say it makes little difference whether the budget is technically balanced, contending that what matters is getting debt down to manageable levels, “balancing the books” is synonymous with “good government” for many voters.
A balanced budget is a “common-sense goal,” Ryan said, while “an unbalanced budget is a sign of overreach.” He writes in his proposal that “when a government does too much, it doesn’t do anything well.”