Washington Digest: House Republicans pass bill that shrinks federal spending

WASHINGTON -- The House voted last week for a Republican-written budget for 2013 that further shrinks federal spending while proposing to overhaul entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

The budget resolution for the fiscal year was adopted 228-191. All but 10 Republicans voted for it. No Democrats voted for it.

While the House budget isn't expected to advance in the Senate, it likely will be a focal point in this year's election campaigns.

The plan put forward by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., envisions $1.028 trillion for discretionary programs that account for about a third of federal spending. The sum is $19 billion less than what Congress set last August as a spending cap for the upcoming year.

On taxes, the Republican plan would set only two income tax brackets -- 10 percent and 25 percent -- while reducing the rate on business taxes. On entitlements, the GOP calls for major restructuring including repeal of the Obama administration's health care law.

Open-ended federal spending on Medicaid and food stamps would be converted into block grants to states. Beginning in 2023, senior citizens would be given payments to buy heath insurance through Medicare or private plans.

Republicans said the budget took steps to put the government's fiscal house in order by reducing spending and simplifying the tax system. They said changes to the entitlements are necessary to avoid bankrupting the programs.

Democrats called the spending cuts too severe, and charged that they would fall heavily on programs that serve as a safety net to lower-income families. Likewise, they said, the Medicare overhaul threatens to increase health care costs for the elderly.

Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., voted for the Republican budget. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against it.

Alternative budgets proposed variously by Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and the Republican Study Committee of conservative GOP members all were defeated before the Ryan budget was passed.


An effort by Democrats to repeal $2 billion in annual tax breaks for the oil and gas industry stalled in the Senate, following debate where both parties sought political advantage as gasoline prices continue to climb.

A bill by Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would have canceled subsidies to the five largest oil companies and redirected savings to extend renewable energy tax credits.

The bill failed a procedural test vote, 51-47. Sixty votes were needed to advance it. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, joined 50 members of the Democratic caucus in voting to strip the tax breaks. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats voted to defend them.

President Barack Obama urged passage of the bill, saying the oil companies were "raking in record profits" and did not need taxpayer subsidies. Democrats sought to paint Republicans as more concerned with "Big Oil" than struggling consumers.

Republicans argued that raising taxes would discourage the companies from exploring for more oil. They said added taxes would do nothing to reduce the cost of gasoline, and would simply increase the price at the pump as companies pass on their higher costs to consumers.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Democrats were wasting time staging "votes for show" on bills "we all knew ahead of time didn't have the votes to pass."

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted to repeal the tax breaks. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted against repeal.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.