House Republicans envision a country where Americans would be increasingly on their own to afford food and medical care even when they are elderly, disabled or poor. It also would be a nation with a tax code that tilts further toward benefiting corporations and the wealthy.
That is the budgetary plan passed by the House on Thursday, 228-191, without a single Democratic vote. While it has no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, the blueprint laid out by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, demonstrates just how determined House Republicans are to dismantle government's core functions.
The Republican plan takes aim at non-defense discretionary spending, slashing funding nearly $1.2 trillion below the cuts that have already been agreed to in the Budget Control Act. That means massive reductions in the money available for such things as education, national parks, environmental protection, roads, border security and scientific research. Floridians should be concerned about all of these misplaced priorities, but Medicare and Medicaid are particularly at risk.
House Republicans would end the help seniors receive toward closing the prescription drug doughnut hole. Their plan would eventually raise Medicare's eligibility age from 65 to 67. It would transform the safety net into a premium-support voucher program that provides government subsidies to private insurers, though beneficiaries could keep the current fee-for-service option. That's an improvement over prior plans, but it still needs work.
Medicaid and other health-related programs would face $770 billion in cuts, resulting in an estimated 19 million people losing coverage. Food stamps would be cut by $133 billion over 10 years. Pell grants for low-income college students would be cut. Head Start, which promotes school readiness for low-income students, would lose 12,400 places in Florida.
Even as Ryan's budget lavishes tax cuts on the rich, it aggressively cuts government help to the middle class and poor and reduces investments in infrastructure and technology. According to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, people earning more than $1 million a year would each receive $265,000 in new tax cuts, with the top marginal tax rate reduced to 25 percent from the current 35 percent. Corporate taxes also would be slashed. Ryan claims new tax cuts would be offset by ending tax deductions and closing loopholes, but he doesn't provide specifics.
Every Republican member of the House from the Tampa Bay area voted for the measure, including Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill; Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland; C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores; and Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Rep. Kathy Castor, the area's lone Democrat from Tampa, voted "no." Congressional Republicans want to exacerbate the nation's yawning income inequality while making life harder for those at the bottom. It just goes to show how much elections matter.