Parties split on budget

WASHINGTON (AP) — Partisan divisions hardened Wednesday as Republicans began pushing a $3.5 trillion federal budget for 2012 through a House committee, with backers calling it a sobering correction for the nation’s spending binge and critics labeling it an assault on health programs for retirees and the poor.

The sweeping fiscal plan by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., lays the groundwork for a decade of cuts in spending, taxes and deficits. It would be tempered by a cost shift to future retirees and features a reshaping of the government’s two chief health care programs for the elderly and poor, Medicare and Medicaid.

Though the blueprint covers the entire reach of government, much of Wednesday’s House Budget Committee debate focused on health and other social programs, from which Republicans were proposing to wring hundreds of billions in savings over the next 10 years. Ryan said that with sky-high deficits, the government needs to limit its mission to programs that are truly needed.

“We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls people to lives of complacencies and dependencies, into a permanent condition where they never get on their feet,” he said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, said Republicans are protecting tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the poor. The Republican budget proposes whittling the current 35 percent top tax rate on individuals and businesses to 25 percent.

“It doesn’t reform Medicare, it deforms and dismantles it,” Van Hollen said of the GOP’s budget. As for Medicaid, the budget “rips apart the safety net” for poor and older people, he added.

The budget is a non-binding road map whose taxing and spending changes are supposed to be enacted later in the year in future legislation. But Ryan’s plan has no chance of being approved by the Democratic-run Senate, making it more of a statement of priorities that candidates are likely to embrace or attack during the 2012 campaigns.

Republicans castigated Democrats for trying to curb the blueprint’s tax cuts, saying today’s level of taxes and regulation make it harder for businesses to create jobs.

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