WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans unveiled the first joint House-Senate budget plan in six years on Wednesday, aiming to boost defense spending, eliminate deficits by 2024 and ease a repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law.
Their prescription to slash domestic spending by more than $5 trillion over 10 years appeared headed for final passage by Friday or early next week after endorsement was secured from Republican Senator Bob Corker.
The plan calls for deep cuts to social safety net programs, including Medicaid health care for the poor and food stamps. But it fails to direct relevant committees to implement most of these cuts.
Instead, the “reconciliation” procedural instructions are focused exclusively on repealing Obamacare, the five-year-old Affordable Care Act. The document directs the two Senate committees and three House committees with jurisdiction over the law to find savings of at least $1 billion each.
Repeal or replacement of Obamacare has long been a goal for Republicans, and budget procedural tools allow them to pass such legislation with only a simple majority in the Senate, rather than a nearly impossible 60-vote threshold.
While Obama has vowed to veto any attempt to dismantle Obamacare, he may be forced to compromise with Republicans if a Supreme Court ruling in June strikes down the health insurance subsidy structure at the heart of the law.
Republicans were already claiming that they “balanced the budget” despite criticism it is loaded with accounting “gimmicks.”
While it calls for repeal of Obamacare, the budget assumes that nearly $1 trillion in tax revenue from the law over 10 years would remain in place. It also nominally maintains the “sequester” caps on military and domestic agency spending but supplements defense funds by adding nearly $40 billion to an off-budget war operations account.
“There is no question this budget is far from perfect, but it is some progress since it has been a long time since the Congress has completed this basic part of governing,” Corker said in a statement announcing his signature.
As reported by Reuters last week, the compromise budget excludes language incorporating Representative Paul Ryan’s longstanding proposals to convert the Medicare health program for seniors to a system of subsidies for largely private health insurance [ID:nL2N0X725D].
“It sounds good. They said if we liked the first one, which I voted for, we’ll like this one,” Republican Representative John Fleming said after a closed meeting of House Republicans.
Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman