The point is to prove it's possible to balance the budget within 10 years by simply cutting spending and avoiding further tax hikes, even as the fiscal blueprint to be released Tuesday by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will be dead on arrival with the White House and Democrats controlling the Senate.
Senate Democrats promise to offer a counterproposal on Wednesday with higher spending on domestic programs and additional tax hikes on top of the higher rates imposed on top-bracket earners in January. It will, in turn, arrive as a dead letter in the GOP-controlled House.
At issue on Tuesday and beyond in the congressional budget process, one that is arcane and partisan both — and unlikely to illustrate a path forward in a gridlocked Washington. At stake are so-called budget resolutions, which are nonbinding measures that have the potential to stake out parameters for follow-up legislation cutting spending and rewriting the complex U.S. tax code.
But this year's dueling GOP and Democratic budget proposals are more about defining political differences — as if last year's elections didn't do enough of that — than charting a path forward toward a solution. Congressional budgets often simply state party positions, and invariably are partisan endeavors.
The partisan exercise comes even as President Barack Obama was to travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with Senate Democrats in an attempt to resuscitate his failed efforts for bipartisanship.
Ryan, who became a national GOP figure as the losing vice presidential nominee last year, has for now settled back into his wonkish role as Budget Committee chairman and chief tutor for dozens of relatively junior Republicans. He's also armed with a full battery of budget bromides.
"We're introducing a budget that balances in 10 years — without raising taxes," Ryan said in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. "How do we do it? We stop spending money the government doesn't have." All told, Ryan's plan would slash $4.6 trillion in spending over the coming decade.
"On the current path, we'll spend $46 trillion over the next 10 years. Under our proposal, we'll spend $41 trillion," Ryan said. "On the current path, spending will increase by 5 percent each year. Under our proposal, it will increase by 3.4 percent."
The House Budget Committee has scheduled a vote on the soon-to-be-released measure Wednesday, and the Senate Budget panel is slated to vote Thursday on rival legislation by new Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., who promises new tax revenues but few cuts from domestic programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
"We are working towards fair and balanced, which is what the American public has said time and time again that they want," Murray said. "We need to make sure that everybody participates in getting us to a budget that deals with our debt and our deficit responsibly."
For his part, Ryan has resurrected a controversial Medicare proposal that replaces traditional Medicare for those currently under 55 with a government subsidy to buy health insurance on the open market. Critics of the plan say the subsidies won't grow with inflation fast enough and would shove thousands of dollars in higher premiums onto seniors before very long.
The House GOP plan again proposes sharp cuts to Medicaid, tighter food stamp eligibility rules and more than $1 trillion in savings over a decade by repealing Obama's signature overhaul of the U.S. health care system. It seeks to preserve the Pentagon budget, but only at the expense of proposing domestic agency budgets that may prove too low for GOP moderates and the pragmatists atop the Appropriations Committee responsible for guiding them into law.
Even as it proposes repealing Obamacare, the Ryan plan banks more than $700 billion in the health care law's cuts to Medicare providers over a decade — just as more than $600 billion in tax hikes on the wealthy enacted in January make it easier for Ryan's budget to predict balance.
At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about Obama's failure to submit a budget on time.
"The president has always believed that deficit reduction is not a goal unto itself," Carney said. "The proposals he's put forward keep the number one objective in mind, which is economic growth and job creation, not deficit reduction solely for the purpose of reducing the deficit."
As the two side battle over future-year budgets, top Senate Democrats and Republicans late Monday released a catchall government funding bill for the ongoing fiscal year that denies Obama new money for implementing signature first-term accomplishments like new regulations on Wall Street and his expansion of government health care subsidies, but provides modest additional funding for domestic priorities like health research and highway projects.
Monday's measure was the product of bipartisan negotiations and is the legislative vehicle to fund the day-to-day operations of government through Sept. 30 — and prevent a government shutdown when current funding runs out March 27.
It sets a path for government after across-the-board spending cuts that took effect March 1. In most cases the minor changes in agency budgets amount to housekeeping within a trillion-dollar cap for the day-to-day operations of agencies in the current budget year.
Passage in the Senate this week seems routine and could presage an end to a mostly overlooked battle between House Republicans and Obama and his Senate Democratic allies over the annual spending bills required to fund federal agency operations.