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House panel approves GOP budget plan

Measure would cut health care, food stamps

WASHINGTON — Republicans on a key House panel muscled through a contentious GOP budget plan Wednesday to sharply cut federal health care spending and safety net programs like food stamps as the chief means to attack trillion-dollar-plus deficits.

The House Budget Committee approved the GOP plan on a near party line 19-to-18 vote, readying it for a House vote next week. Two Tea Party favorites, Republican representatives Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan, joined Democrats in opposing the measure, saying it did not go far enough.

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The GOP plan is nonbinding but calls for repealing President Obama’s health care law while transforming Medicare into a voucherlike system in which the government subsidizes purchases of health insurance on the private market instead of directly paying doctor and hospital bills.

The Medicare proposal will not be the subject of follow-up legislation under the arcane budget process on Capitol Hill. Nor do Republicans plan to pass a detailed proposal to overhaul the nation’s complicated, loophole-ridden tax code this year.

But other elements of the measure are likely to advance this spring - at least in the GOP-dominated House - as a 10-year, $261 billion package of cuts to replace deep, across-the-board spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon and domestic agencies in January. Those cuts were required under last year’s budget pact because of the failure of the deficit “supercommittee’’ last fall.

This spring’s substitute cuts are likely to target, among other programs, food stamps, federal employee pensions, farm subsidies, and a proposal to require higher-income Medicare beneficiaries to pay higher premiums. Some of those ideas have been marched through the House before, only to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, though the agriculture and food stamp cuts have not - and may prove troublesome.

The Senate has no plans for a companion measure.

The budget outline also would force new austerity on an upcoming round of spending bills for domestic agencies, breaking faith with spending limits carefully negotiated with Obama and Senate Democrats just last summer.

Democrats say the GOP budget’s Medicare proposal would dump a steadily increasing share of health care costs on future retirees forced into the new system, starting in 10 years. And they decried sharp cuts to food stamps, school lunches, welfare, Pell Grants, transportation, and education.

Republicans praised the plan for taking on deficits that threaten to swamp the economy if left unchecked, while Democrats assaulted it for awarding big tax cuts to the wealthy while forcing seniors to pay a far larger share of their health care costs.

The budget panel’s top Democrat, Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, warned that the measure would indiscriminately slash spending while delivering tax increases to the rich.

The GOP plan, drafted by Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, would use domestic program cuts to shrink US deficit to $3.1 trillion over the coming decade, less than half the size of those proposed by Obama.

But it does so in ways that would be unprecedented - and unrealistic - by relying on assumptions like cutting transportation outlays from $93 billion this year to just $50 billion in the 2013 budget year starting in October. Its cuts to the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled would total more than $800 billion over the coming decade, Van Hollen said.

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