Analysis: Republicans claim budget will erase red ink, but shy away from legislation to do so



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WASHINGTON — On paper and in speeches, Republicans boast that Congress' first budget since they won control of the Senate and House last fall will eliminate red ink within a decade.

Actually, it will do nothing of the sort.

That's because the budget itself is nonbinding and, on its own, has no effect on spending.

And also because Republicans have decided against using unique budget rules for follow-up legislation to save the trillions of dollars from food stamps, Medicaid and other benefit programs that would be needed to erase red ink. To do that would spark a pitched political battle with Democrats, a veto from President Barack Obama — and a possible backlash from the voters in 2016.

Republican veterans and newcomers alike made no mention of this political truth in praising their own handiwork in recent days as the blueprint was ratified on party-line votes in both houses.

"This balanced budget achieves real results and allows the federal government to support Americans when it must and get out of the way when it should," said Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee.

"Today I was pleased to vote for a budget that will curb out-of-control spending, ensure a strong national defense, protect Social Security, strengthen Medicare, all without raising taxes on hardworking Alaskans," said Sen. Dan Sullivan, a first-term lawmaker from Alaska.

House Speaker John Boehner's office listed 10 ways the budget will help taxpayers, including "balancing the budget without raising taxes to help create 1.2 million new jobs, save taxpayers more than $5 trillion and protect future generations from crushing debt."

In a brief burst of candor, Republican negotiators who put together the final House-Senate compromise were more restrained. They called their work a "statement of good faith to the American people that Congress can govern responsibly and effectively."

Overall the Republican spending plan charts a far different course that the one pursued by Democrats, who treated budget-drafting as optional when they held the Senate majority in recent years and show less interest in deficit control.

It will curtail spending on programs that are funded on a yearly basis, by about one-tenth of the $5 trillion needed to balance the budget over the next 10 years. Democrats and the White House are sure to contest those bills.

But it generally will leave alone the large benefit programs where far greater savings are needed if deficits are to end.

The shortfall is projected to total $468 billion for the current budget year, the lowest since Obama took office.

Instead of pursuing elimination of red ink, Republicans intend to use special budget rules to pass legislation repealing the health care law known as Obamacare, or whatever part of it might remain standing after a widely anticipated Supreme Court ruling later this summer.

That is the "sole purpose" of any reconciliation legislation that will be passed as a follow-up, the agreement says, using the budget-speak label for a bill debated under rules that bar a Senate minority from preventing a final vote.

That, too, would stand as something of an accomplishment for Republicans, since it would mark the first time they have succeeded in sending Obama legislation to repeal the law.

In previous years, Senate Democrats blocked dozens of House GOP attempts to wipe out or neutralize the law, but they are in the minority now.

The repeal measure that Republicans intend to pass will produce a pitched battle with Democrats and a veto from the president. With savings of roughly $2 trillion over a decade, it won't come close to balancing the budget. In purely political terms, though, it will please conservatives who helped put the GOP in power last fall without risking voter anger at the polls.

Repeal of the health care law is estimated to save about $2 trillion, less than half of the amount needed to erase deficits over a decade.

In addition, the original House budget blueprint recommended cuts in Medicaid and other health programs of about $1 trillion over a decade, and savings from benefit programs like food stamps of another $1 trillion. It also envisioned an intensely controversial overhaul of Medicare for the future.

Senate Republicans, whose majority could be sternly tested at the polls in 2016, have been particularly unwilling to disclose any long-term blueprint for cutting spending.


EDITOR'S NOTE: David Espo is AP's chief congressional correspondent.

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