The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has passed a budget plan for 2012, which the majority party hailed as a proposal that saves taxpayer money and reforms government health and security programs for the elderly and the poor. But Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have been vocal in their opposition to the Republican-sponsored plan, saying it would destroy the Medicare program for the elderly and seriously affect other much-needed social programs.
One day after approving a 2011 spending bill, Republicans and Democrats clashed over spending for the next fiscal year.
The measure enjoyed overwhelming Republican support in the vote of 235 to 193, with Democrats solidly opposed to it.
The White House slammed it as a plan that places the burden of debt reduction on those who can least afford it, ends Medicare in its current form, while doubling health care costs for seniors in order to, in its words, "pay for more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires."
Republican Representative Paul Ryan said the plan he crafted saves and repairs the social programs for the elderly and the poor and pays off the debt.
"It gets the economy growing," said Ryan. "It keeps taxes where they are and prevents massive tax increases. It saves our Medicare, Medicaid programs. It fulfils the mission of health and retirement security for all Americans by guaranteeing that people who have retired or about to retire keep what they have, what they organized their lives around, and then reforms these programs so they are solvent and sustainable for the next generation."
But Democrats had a much different view. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats have offered a better alternative spending plan. She said big oil companies and wealthy Americans would enjoy tax breaks under the Republican budget and Medicare would be destroyed.
"The Republican budget breaks the promise that this country has made to seniors, that after a lifetime of work they will be able to depend on Medicare to protect them in retirement," said Pelosi. "The plan here ends Medicare as we know it, and dramatically reduces benefits for seniors. It forces seniors to buy their insurance from the health insurance companies, where the average senior would force to pay twice as much for half the benefit, as much as, for some, $20,000 a year."
Republicans say the budget plan aims to save at least $5 trillion over the next decade.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner said the plan is a serious step forward. He charged that President Obama has failed to present a plan that would properly address debt and control spending.
"This budget will bring more certainty to the American people, show the American people that we’re serious about cutting spending because we all know that cutting spending will reduce some of the uncertainty that is causing job creators to sit our their hands," said Boehner.
The bill changes the four-decade old Medicare system from a program that directly pays medical bills into one that provides recipients vouchers to purchase medical coverage from private insurers. It also sharply reduces funding for Medicaid, the joint federal and state health care program for the poor.
Federal spending is expected to continue to dominate the debate in Washington, as the Republican plan is not expected to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Congress also has to decide what to do about the nation’s debt limit, which the country is quickly approaching.