Wednesday, January 17, 2018

House approves Republican deficit-cutting plan

WASHINGTON — A divided House approved a $3.6 trillion Republican budget Thursday that recasts Medicare and imposes sweeping cuts in domestic programs, capping a battle that gave both political parties a campaign-season stage to spotlight their warring deficit-cutting priorities.

But the partisan divisions over the measure, which is dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate, also underscore how tough it will be for lawmakers to achieve the cooperation needed to contend with a tsunami of tax and spending decisions that will engulf Congress right after this fall's elections.

The fiscal plan the House passed by a near party-line 228-191 vote would reshape and squeeze savings out of Medicare and Medicaid, the federal health insurance programs for the elderly and poor. It would force deep cuts in a wide range of spending, including rail projects, research and Pell Grants for low-income college students.

It would block President Barack Obama's plans to raise taxes on couples earning above $250,000 a year. Instead, it would collapse the current six income tax rates into just two, with a top rate of 25 percent — well below the current 35 percent ceiling — while erasing tax deductions and other breaks the GOP plan failed to specify.

Overall, the GOP budget would cut spending $5.3 trillion more deeply in the next decade than Obama would — out of more than $40 trillion that would be spent. It would cut taxes by $2 trillion more than the president's plan. That leaves Republicans seeking a hefty $3.3 trillion in deeper deficit reduction than Obama.

There is little practical consequence if Congress' budget is ignored or, like this year, if a final version is never approved. That's because the budget is a non-binding blueprint that legislators are supposed to follow as they work on spending and revenue bills later in the year.

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