By Chris Casteel
For the second straight year, House Republicans have used their budget to make a statement on what Rep. James Lankford calls their "core values."
"I think it's the right thing to do to be able to put out a budget and say: "Here's the vision and here's the perspective,'" said Lankford, R-Oklahoma City. "It's what a budget is supposed to do."
Similar to last year's GOP budget blueprint, the 2012 version approved last week would dramatically reshape Medicare and Medicaid and cut farm subsidies, food stamps, Head Start and a range of other domestic programs, while protecting defense from deep reductions. It also calls for broad tax reform to lower rates and eliminate some deductions.
Like last year's House budget, it's not going to get through the Democratic Senate. But it will survive as an election-year document that defines the differences between the two parties. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has embraced the budget, while the White House has blasted it.
"We're not going to get where we need to be as a country unless we're willing to address really big issues in a really bold way and go back and ask the American people, "What do you think?'" Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said.
What Democrats think is that the GOP budget shows great sympathy for the wealthy and little for the needy.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, addressed Republicans' claims last week that their budget was bold and courageous.
"We don't think that it's bold to provide tax breaks to millionaires while you're ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors,'' Van Hollen said during House debate.
"We don't think it's courageous to protect big taxpayer giveaways to companies that ship American jobs overseas while we're cutting investments in education, science, research and infrastructure right here at home."
The Republican budget of last year, the first to propose a Medicare system in which seniors of the future were given premium support rather than an open-ended entitlement, drew far more attention and controversy than the one passed last week.
The budget approved in 2011 came just months after Republicans took over the House, and it helped define their priorities. It also came at a time when there was intense interest on the debt and deficits.
This year, House Republican priorities are well known. And there are few expectations that anything will be done about spending reductions, tax policy and entitlement reform until after the November elections.
Oklahoma lawmakers said the relatively subdued reaction to the Republican budget means more acceptance of its approach.
"I think seniors at home that I talk to understand there are serious problems in the funding of Medicare," Lankford said.
Cole said, "The fact that it's not as violent a reaction this year suggests we were wise to be strong and forthright and bold from the very beginning.
"That's the kind of politics the country really wants. Voters really understand that decisions that aren't very easy need to be made, and I think they're looking for someone to do it."
Cole said that even with the tax hikes proposed by President Barack Obama, the president's budget wouldn't come close to the kind of deficit reduction needed.
"We're willing to have this debate: How big do you want the government to be?" Cole said.
"The worst thing is to do nothing. We know that Medicare and Medicaid are going to collapse under the own weight unless there are real changes."
Rep. Dan Boren, of Muskogee, the only Democrat in Oklahoma's five-person House delegation, voted last week for the only bipartisan alternative offered during two days of debate on various budget blueprints.
That one, based on recommendations from President Barack Obama's fiscal commission in 2010, got only 38 votes out of the 420 members voting.
Boren was among the Democrats who said last year that the Republican budget would "end Medicare as we know it."
He didn't go that far this year since the traditional Medicare program would be one of the options seniors could choose with their government premium support. But he said the budget this year would still "change what the program means to people."
Boren said Medicare must be reformed to survive.
But, he said, "We can do it in a way that doesn't turn it into a voucher system."
Boren is not running for re-election this year, but he had some advice on whether the six Republicans vying to replace him should publicly support the House Republican budget.
"My advice would be not to do that,'' Boren said. "Medicare is a big issue in my district."