Van Hollen rips Ryan budget

Maryland House member gives few details of Dems' alternative but vows to restore Clinton-era tax rates.

House Budget Committee ranking member Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said on Tuesday that the House Democrats will call for a return to Clinton-era top tax rates and defense cuts in their response to the GOP budget plan put forward by Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The Democratic alternative, Van Hollen said during a speech at the Center for American Progress, will cut spending in a "targeted, smart way, not with a meat ax" and bring the budget into a primary balance by 2018. But his speech was vague about how the Democrats' proposal would generate savings from mandatory programs not related to health care and offered no new ideas on how to curb Medicare and Medicaid costs beyond those already in President Obama's health care law.

Van Hollen said he will present the final budget to the Democratic Caucus on Tuesday afternoon and plans to unveil it publicly on Wednesday. Obama will outline his own approach to curbing long-term deficits on Wednesday afternoon.

Both House Democrats and White House officials have hinted that they will model their ideas on the proposals offered by Obama's bipartisan deficit commission last year. That plan proposed reducing the deficit by about $4 trillion over 10 years through a mix of discretionary-spending cuts, reductions in future entitlement-program benefits, and and tax increases.

Van Hollen used much of his Tuesday-morning speech to criticize Ryan's budget -- and Republicans in general -- as well as to sound the now-ubiquitous Democratic theme of investing in order to "out-educate, out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world."

The GOP plan would transform Medicare into a defined-contribution, lump-sum subsidy program and convert Medicaid into a block-grant program administered by the states; it would also cut the top corporate- and income-tax rates to 25 percent. According to Van Hollen, that would amount to "a yellow-brick road for the already prosperous and a dead-end for the rest of the country."

"This does not reform Medicare," he said of Ryan's proposed budget. "This deforms and dismantles Medicare."

Ryan has been praised -- even by some of his detractors -- for having the courage to offer up a specific long-term debt plan. The Republican has argued that the only way to preserve Medicare and Medicaid is to fundamentally change them. Van Hollen called that approach "Orwellian," comparing it to the Vietnam-era aphorism that "to save the village you must destroy it."

"When you strip away all the soothing, sweet-sounding talk of reform, at its core the Republican budget is the same tired formula for extending tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else," he said. "Except this time, it's on steroids."