As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) -- the conservatives in the US House of Representatives -- don't care for the House Republican leadership's "alternative budget." The RSC has now introduced its alternative alternative budget, and as promised it claims to achieve a balanced budget by the 10th year, 2019.
The House just voted on it (I'll leave you in suspense for a moment), and willl later vote on the original GOP alternative, and then eventually the actual budget. If, like me, you've been tuned into C-SPAN all afternoon, you were able to enjoy a succession of conservative Republicans, speaking in favor of the RSC budget, railing against high deficits and debts -- which, as I wrote before, is by implication an equal criticism of the GOP leadership's alternative budget.
Making things even more uncomfortable for House Republicans, all the big conservative groups -- Club for Growth, National Taxpayers Union, Citizens Against Government Waste, etc. -- are supporting the RSC budget, not the leadership's budget. Club for Growth is making the RSC budget vote a "key vote," meaning that anyone who votes no will get a lower rating, and I suspect others (like the American Conservative Union) will too... and those ratings really matter to many of these House Republicans.
And yet, voting for this RSC budget is, well, kind of politically insane. You see, current "baseline" projections put us on a path for a 2019 budget deficit -- for that single year -- at $1.0 trillion. Obama's budget claims to reduce that to $712 billion. The GOP's official alternative budget claims to get it to $593 billion. As I noted above, the salient feature of the RSC budget is that it claims to have a balanced budget in 2019. You just can't get there without breaking a few eggs.
Let's take a quick look at some of those eggs. (If you want to skip this wonky stuff, you can scroll down to "So, here's your results..." to find out how the vote went.)
First Medicare -- one of the most popular programs in the country, and, due to rising health care costs and an aging population, one of the fastest-growing parts of the budget. By the baseline numbers, the federal government will spend $872 billion on Medicare in 2019. The RSC budget slashes that to $605 billion -- a 30% decrease. They don't do this by any sort of reform, they do it by allowing only a 4.2% annual increase in Medicare spending. Over the 10 years, by my count, the RSC budget would cut $1.3 trillion from Medicare. That's OK, older folks don't vote much, right?
Guess what? They hack Medicaid too! Medicaid spending is allowed to increase only 1.1% annually in the RSC budget. That trims another $220 billion from the 2019 budget -- and over the 10 years cuts $1.1 trillion from Medicaid.
But wait, we haven't even gotten to the magical reductions in discretionary spending.
First off, the RSC says that it funds defense and "overseas contingency operations" -- wars and such -- at the same levels as Obama's budget (which is slightly less than the GOP leadership's budget calls for, and considerably less than the baseline projections). For 2019, that means $689 billion. The RSC's total budgeted discretionary spending for 2019 is $964 billion.
That means that under the RSC's budget, in 2019, the federal government will spend just $275 billion on all non-Defense discretionary programs. That's half of what the GOP leadership's budget calls for in 2019, even with a total across-the-board freeze without even increases for inflation. Under baseline projections, the figure would be $686 billion; under Obama, it's $745 billion.
The RSC budget doesn't just freeze the budget of every non-Defense part of government, without increases to keep up for inflation for ten years, but cuts an additional 1% across the board every year.
But that's not nearly enough. So, the RSC also calls for "reconciliation instructions for six committees... to achieve total mandatory savings equal to $482 billion."
Where oh where will all these savings come from? What massive programs will be eliminated? The RSC doesn't say, but does helpfully provide some examples: reductions or elimination of NEA, NEH, AmeriCorps, Amtrak, the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, and the Legal Services Corporation. Completely eliminating all of those would get you maybe $2 billion a year, which is cute considering the RSC budget requires, by my reckoning, cutting roughly $120 billion from baseline projections just in the coming year.
Oh, and naturally the RSC budget includes massive, massive tax cuts, almost entirely for the wealthy and corporations.
So, to sum up, a vote for the RSC budget puts a congressman on the record for cutting more than a trillion dollars from Medicare over the next ten years, cutting more than a trillion dollars from Medicaid over the next ten years, cutting all other non-Defense programs to less than half their size in ten years, and offering massive tax cuts to rich people. Never mind the policy implications, does anyone think that this is good politically?
On the other hand, who wants to get docked a few rating points by Club for Growth?
So here's your results: 111 House Republicans voted against their leadership and for the RSC budget, and just 65 voted against (along with every Democrat). In fact, most of the House leadership voted yes. The noes were pretty much Minority Leader Boehner; Paul Ryan, who principally authored the GOP alternative budget; and all the relatively moderate Republicans. Among those voting for the RSC budget were Minority Whip Eric Cantor; Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy; Deputy Whips Mike Conaway and Patrick McHenry; Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence -- who held the press conference announcing the leadership's alternative budget last week; Republican Conference Vice-Chair Cathy McMorris-Rogers; Republican Conference Secretary John Carter; and NRCC chair Pete Sessions.
And now -- right now as I type -- Boehner is up on the floor of the House, starting off the floor debate on his bill. He has a chart up, showing how this GOP budget plan would grow the debt somewhat less than Obama's budget. You can imagine how pathetic this appears after the afternoon of his own members getting up in the chamber and bashing the idea of adding to the debt at all.