By Rep. Steny Hoyer
In what is likely to be the latest installment in a tragic budgetary trilogy, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan on Tuesday will introduce a Republican budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 that purports to balance within ten years. While an improved economic outlook and new revenue from the fiscal cliff deal make the task of balancing the budget somewhat easier, this plan, much like Ryan's previous budgets, is expected to rely on spurious budget trickery to reach its goal.
In February, the Congressional Budget Office released an updated baseline projection for the next decade, taking into effect savings as a result of the fiscal cliff deal. That agreement allowed tax rates on the very highest incomes to revert to their Clinton-era levels and, in the process, reduced future deficits. Ryan voted for that deal and, as part of his strategy to close the deficit within a decade, is expected to include these revenues in his budget.
But even with this help, in order to meet his ten-year deadline, Ryan will undoubtedly once again employ budget gimmicks of the type he and Governor Romney made a hallmark of their economic plan. His past budgets have included lofty rhetoric about deficit savings but very few actual details of how those savings are found.
In addition to the Medicare and Medicaid cuts touted in his viral videos, Ryan will once again need to rely on trillions in additional spending cuts. And once again these cuts will be obscured behind esoteric budget language. These roughly $2 trillion in additional spending cuts won't find their way to YouTube or be featured in his press releases. In fact, they will exist, as they have in his past budgets, only as line items tucked into tables in the budget's back pages, described only as "other" or "allowances." Despite their minimal treatment, the policies necessary to realize these cuts will impact millions of vulnerable Americans.
To achieve his goals, Ryan will likely count sequestration's cuts to defense, but promise to swap them later with a "future policy decision." He will also have to continue to slash from domestic programs -- again, without telling us which ones.
As a result, we will once again see a Republican budget that reneges on the Medicare guarantee and shifts costs onto our seniors. Instead of insisting on a balanced approach to deficit reduction, Ryan's budget will demand that our middle class, seniors, veterans, women, children, federal employees, low-income families, and those nearing retirement pick up the tab. Seeking budget savings without asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share, House Republicans' answer has consistently been to transform Medicare into a voucher program and severely restrict vital programs crucial to those Americans in greatest need.
Mathematically, there is no other way to eliminate the deficit in ten years without a balanced approach that includes additional revenue -- and Ryan knows it. Yet, such an approach has already been rejected by many in Ryan's own party. Whether House Republicans could even rally together to pass such a budget remains to be seen.
When this new Republican budget is introduced, we expect it to be -- in the words of baseball great Yogi Berra -- "déjà vu all over again." When asked about its contents last Wednesday, Ryan admitted: "I wouldn't expect any big surprises." Neither do Democrats in Congress, who continue to stand up for a big, balanced approach that will protect the integrity of Medicare and of threatened programs that help millions of our people stay out of poverty.
American voters around the nation issued a clear rejection of the Romney-Ryan plan of severe cuts, budget gimmicks, and lack of details in November. Instead of targeting seniors, the middle class, and the most vulnerable, House Republicans could work with Democrats to craft a bipartisan budget that reflects our priorities and that contains a balance of spending reductions and revenues. It is a positive sign that, despite his budget's continued reliance on fuzzy math, Ryan is expected to include revenues from the fiscal cliff deal -- a tacit acknowledgement that revenues will have to be part of any solution to achieve real deficit reduction.
Democrats are ready to work across the aisle and recognize that both sides will need to make tough decisions. Our alternative will do so, because budgets ought not to serve partisan ends but reflect our priorities: protecting our economic recovery, enhancing our national security, and continuing to invest in opportunities that grow a strong middle class.
We must work together to pass a budget that will set our nation back on the path to fiscal discipline and preserve investments that fuel the American Dream. And we must be honest with ourselves and with the American people when it comes to the real spending cuts and revenues we need to make our budget work.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is the House Minority Whip.