Anatomy of a Budget: The Plans that Drew GOP Defections and No Dem Crossovers

EDUCATION

The House has proposed placing a cap on Pell Grants, which are offered to low-income students who need financial assistance to attend college. The lower chamber also is aiming at substantial cuts in discretionary education programming. The Senate likewise is proposing unspecified education cuts.

Price said the budget proposal maintains the maximum award of $5,775 for Pell for 2015-2016. But the program faces funding issues and the package addresses Pell’s poor finances by maintaining the maximum award for the remainder of the budget window while targeting the program to students who need the most assistance.

But Van Hollen said cuts in students’ loans and Pell grants “will make college less affordable and add to the already huge levels of student debt.’’

“The cuts in students’ loans and Pell grants will make college less affordable and add to the already huge levels of student debt,” Van Hollen said.

Sanders argued that young people and their families “are enormously frustrated by the high cost of college education and the horrendously oppressive student debt that many of them leave school with.”

“In fact, student debt today, at $1.2 trillion is the second largest category of debt in this country – more than credit card and auto loan debt,” Sanders said. “Does the Republican budget do anything to lower interest rates on student debt? In fact, their budget would make a bad situation even worse. Does the Republican budget support President Obama’s initiative to make two years of community college free or any other initiative to make college affordable? Sadly, it does not. But what it does do is cut $90 billion in Pell Grants over a 10-year period.”

HEALTH CARE

The Republican budgets begin and end, of course, by killing Obamacare, although critics note the authors of the spending packages still intend to use the savings anticipated from the Affordable Care Act for other purposes, even though that money won't be there if the law is repealed.

Killing Obamacare will also, in effect, kick about 7 million individuals off Medicaid who took advantage of the program’s expansion under the health-care reform law. The House goes beyond even that, looking to cut overall Medicaid spending and turning it into a block grant to the states.

The Senate also wants to cut Medicaid by trillions but doesn't offer a plan on how it intends to proceed. Democrats maintain those steps will assure that health care currently available for poor families will shrink.

“This budget repeals Obamacare in its entirety,” Price said. “It ends the raid on Medicare and dedicates those savings to preserving the program. It repeals all of the destructive taxes and replaces that revenue through comprehensive pro-growth tax reform. It repeals the Medicaid expansion and the newly created entitlement. Understanding that America’s health care system is in need of reform, our budget envisions starting over with a set of policies that would provide for patient-centered health care reform.”

On Medicare, House Republicans are interested in raising premiums on the wealthy but would offer individuals a lump-sum payment beginning in 2024 to end their Medicare coverage – theorizing they would use the money to purchase private insurance. GOP lawmakers in the lower chamber also want to prohibit the federal government from negotiating with drug manufacturers to lower prices. Senate Republicans, once again less clear, assert that they want to cut about half a trillion dollars from Medicare over the next decade without saying how they intend to go about it.

Price said the House GOP package “saves and strengthens’’ Medicare.

“The Medicare trustees predict that without reforms, Medicare will go bankrupt by 2030, breaking the promise to seniors,’’ he said. “Our plan would strengthen Medicare by offering future seniors guaranteed-coverage options – including traditional Medicare – regardless of pre-existing conditions or health history. All seniors will have the support they need to get the care they deserve.

Price said the House budget proposal “sets forth positive solutions to save, strengthen and secure programs like Medicare and Medicaid so they can actually deliver on the commitments that have been made to the American people.’’

Sanders said the health care cuts envisioned by the Republicans are devastating.

“We have about 40 million Americans who lack health insurance and millions more who are under-insured,” Sanders said. “Well, apparently that is not good enough for my Republican colleagues in their budget. They want to abolish the Affordable Care Act and take away the health insurance that 16 million Americans have gained through that program.  In other words, instead of having 40 million people uninsured, we would have 56 million people uninsured.”

If the cuts in Medicaid are included, Sanders said, “millions more Americans would lose their health coverage. Further, when you make massive cuts in Medicaid, you also cut the nursing home care for seniors, perhaps the most vulnerable and helpless people in our country.”

FOOD STAMPS AND CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS

The House Republican budget makes deep cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and transforms it into block grants to the states. In the Senate, SNAP is on a list of programs expected to provide $4.3 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years.

Price noted that the House Budget Committee has found that there are 92 different anti-poverty programs, 17 food aid programs and 22 housing assistance programs, some of which can be combined or repealed. There also exists any number of job training programs.

“By demanding Washington live within its means, we are forcing government to be more efficient, effective and accountable, providing our local communities the freedom and flexibility to improve the delivery of vital services and assistance to those in need, and saving and strengthening vital programs for America’s seniors,’’ he said.

SNAP, he said, is “a good example of a program in need of reform.’’

“Spending on SNAP has almost quadrupled since 2002,’’ Price said. “It’s grown in good times and bad, because of the open-ended nature of the program. States get more money if they enroll more people. This setup encourages waste, fraud and abuse. This budget will still spend approximately $600 billion on the SNAP program over the next decade.’’

Democrats maintain cutting SNAP will prove particularly hard on children, especially combined with other proposed cuts.

“At a time when almost 20 percent of our children live in poverty, by far the highest childhood poverty rate of any major country on earth, my Republican colleagues think that maybe we should raise the childhood poverty rate a bit higher by cutting childcare, Head Start, the Child Tax Credit and nutrition assistance for hungry kids,” Sanders said.

DISCRETIONARY CUTS

Both GOP proposals either freeze or slash current spending on a wide range of programs ranging from infrastructure to climate change by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Enzi said balancing the budget is simply paramount.

“Make no mistake, our fiscal outlook is grim and has been ignored for far too long,’’ he said. “But we have a profound moral responsibility to help hardworking taxpayers see the true picture of our country's finances. This is also an opportunity to make significant changes in how we do business in order to safeguard the future for our kids and grandkids.’’

Van Hollen said the package will achieve exactly the opposite.

“While this Republican budget will immediately make life harder in the daily lives of working families, it also disinvests in America’s future,” Van Hollen said. “It slashes the part of the budget we use to invest in our kids’ education – from early education to K-12 and beyond. It is a sad day when we start chopping away at the ladders of opportunity in America.”

“It will also devastate the investments America has made in scientific research and innovation – investments that have helped power our economy and keep us at the cutting edge of technology,” he said. “And it provides no solution to address the shortfall in the federal transportation fund that will result in construction slowdowns beginning this summer."