WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans in Congress can't agree on a budget, but there's no disagreement about using the spending plan crafted by House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to highlight an election-year divide.
President Barack Obama has called the GOP budget a backward "radical vision" and "thinly veiled social Darwinism" that would let many people struggle while the rich benefit. Republicans say their plan is a sober approach to dealing with out-of-control government spending and higher taxes in an era that demands fiscal austerity.
The debate underscores the broader dispute between the two parties about the role and size of government.
From town halls to job fairs to meet-and-greets with voters during Congress' two-week recess, Democrats and Republicans focused on the budget in a preview of the seven-month campaign to November. The economy and jobs are voters' priorities, and how the budget debate plays out could prove critical in the fall, with control of the White House, Senate and House at stake.
Obama and likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney have both signaled that the budget plan will be an element in their race.
The House plan would make deep cuts to government programs. Everything from food stamps to transportation is on the chopping block. It calls for shrinking the current six income-tax rate system to just two and lowering the top rate to 25 percent from the current 35 percent. The most politically dicey element is the change in Medicare, the $500 billion-a-year health insurance program for older people. Republicans would leave the plan alone for retirees and those nearing retirement. For younger people, Medicare would be reshaped into a voucher-like system in which the government would subsidize people's health care costs. Republicans say that would drive down costs by giving beneficiaries a menu of competing options. Democrats say government payments won't keep up with rapid inflation of medical costs.