Anything you can cut, we can cut deeper.
That seemed to be the message Monday from the Republican Study Committee, which unveiled an alternative budget for fiscal year 2014 that Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana described as “fairer and simpler” than other competing versions, including the one introduced last week by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Still, Scalise was careful to emphasize his support for Ryan’s budget and to discourage any internal “division” over the two documents.
Flanked by Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., a member of the House Budget Committee who helped draft the RSC version, Scalise addressed perhaps the biggest difference between the two proposals: The RSC budget balances in four years, whereas Ryan’s balances in 10 years.
“We do the same thing; we just do it a little quicker,” Scalise explained.
Scalise said the RSC proposal strikes “a really good contrast” to the Senate Democratic budget introduced last week, but it also highlights some critical contrasts with Ryan’s version. Policy-wise, the RSC budget, titled “Back to the Basics,” goes much further in cutting entitlement programs and in balancing the budget over the next few years than Ryan’s most recent plan.
The RSC blueprint seeks to freeze all discretionary spending through 2017. It proposes turning Medicare into a voucher program by the year 2019, whereas Ryan’s latest budget did not touch Medicare within the next decade. And it targets the political sacred cow of Social Security. The RSC budget calls for a change in the way benefits are calculated—a change that President Obama supports as part of a grand budget deal—as well as an increase in the eligibility age for anyone born in 1979 or later.
Scalise and Woodall said their conservative subgroup of the House Republican Conference has traditionally released an alternative budget in an attempt to pull the conference ideologically rightward. Scalise noted that the last time the RSC did not release an alternative version was in 2008—and that’s because the House GOP budget balanced in four years. “That’s been kind of the sweet spot,” he said.
Part of the goal of this year’s Republican Study Committee budget, much like the Ryan plan, is to establish a standard for balancing the federal budget in a short time period and make that the rhetoric against which all budget documents are measured in the coming years.
“I serve on the Budget Committee, and I believe in what Paul is doing there,” Woodall said. “Having sat in those discussions for two years, I saw how the RSC budget in 2011 ... laid the framework for principles that could pass the House in 2012. And laying out those RSC principles in 2012, now we have a framework for things that can pass the House in 2013. It’s a process.”
Scalise stressed that the contrast conservatives are drawing is not with the House Republican budget, but with the document produced by Senate Democrats—and with the one they’re still waiting for from the president. “We will see his Final Four picks before we see his budget,” Scalise predicted.
This article appeared in the Tuesday, March 19, 2013 edition of National Journal Daily.