Yesterday, the Senate voted on two Republican budgets: Paul Ryan's plan, and the plan introduced by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. Ryan's plan has been in the spotlight for at least two months, but Toomey's proposal is a little more obscure and considerably more radical. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) provides the details:
Cuts funding for nondefense discretionary programs by nearly $1.5 trillion over the next ten years below the level recently enacted for the current year (fiscal year 2011), adjusted for inflation. In 2021, it would impose a 30 percent cut in this category — which includes transportation and infrastructure, the FBI, most of homeland security activities (a small part of which falls in the defense category), elementary and secondary education, National Institutes of Health cancer and other health research, environmental protection, and a vast array of other significant programs.
Cuts mandatory programs other than Social Security and Medicare (or interest payments on the debt) by nearly $3.8 trillion below the baseline projections of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) over ten years, and by $615 billion — more than half — in 2021 alone.
Of the $3.8 trillion in cuts, $1.4 trillion would come from repealing the Affordable Care Act; $1.1 trillion would come from Toomey's plan to turn Medicaid into a block grant and slash federal funding by half; $900 billion would come from cuts to programs for poor and lower-income Americans, like food stamps and unemployment insurance; and $400 billion would come from other areas of mandatory spending, including cuts in education and social services. The Bush tax cuts are kept in place, and any revenue gained from closing tax loopholes is redirected into lowering tax rates. There are cuts to defense spending, but they are the modest ones proposed by outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The CBPP appreciates the lack of a Medicare voucher program, but balances that with an important observation: "His even more severe cuts in Medicaid and other programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable Americans mean that his plan overall would be even more damaging than the Ryan plan."
Given the ongoing political catastrophe that Ryan's budget has become, Republicans have every reason not to support the Toomey plan, which is far more radical in its cuts to social services. But, in yesterday's vote, 42 Republicans voted to support the Toomey plan, two more than the 40 who voted for Ryan's budget. And this was after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "freed" Republicans to vote their "conscience."
Apparently, for the overwhelming majority of the Senate Republicans (the only GOPers to oppose both were Sens. Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe), it's conscientious to support budgets that demolish the social safety net for the purpose of redistributing tax dollars to rich people.
Over at the Daily Beast, John Avlon makes a distinction that's worth repeating. Republicans claim the mantle of "fiscal responsibility," but what they really mean is fiscal conservatism. Fiscal responsibility is shorthand for a simple principle: You raise revenue when you need it, cut revenue when you don't, and try to maintain a government that's flexible, but sustainable. Fiscal conservatism, on the other hand, is a near-theological belief in the healing power of tax cuts. Overwhelmingly, the modern Republican Party is invested in the latter and indifferent to the former.
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