WASHINGTON — Congress is preparing to renew its bitter fight over government spending, as both parties eagerly await the arrival Tuesday of a new budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
A year ago, embracing Ryan’s budget with its deep spending cuts and a proposal to privatize Medicare, became a badge of loyalty for conservatives. Democrats, meanwhile, used the plan as a political cudgel, accusing the GOP of working to end the retiree health program.
Even before the introduction of this year’s version of the plan, both sides have signaled that they are eager to relaunch the fight.
On Thursday, Ryan circulated a snazzy Web trailer for the plan, featuring ominous music as the Wisconsin lawmaker walked the halls of Congress and discussed the need to control spending.
“This coming debt crisis is the most predictable crisis we’ve ever had in this country,” he says in the video. “This is why we’re acting. This is why we’re leading. This is why we’re proposing and passing from the House a budget to fix this problem.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee immediately responded with a series of statements charging that Ryan will lean on seniors to reduce the debt without addressing tax rates for the wealthy.
Rejection of the House budget by the Senate is assured. But the document will be an important symbolic outline of Republican priorities in a key election year.
Republican leaders believe it is critical to unify the often fractious House GOP around such a document, in part to contrast the Republican-led House with the Democratic-led Senate, which has failed to pass a budget, as required by law, in nearly three years.
But Ryan may this year face a new headache: tea party conservatives in his party eager to slash spending more quickly than his proposal will advocate.
To earn their support, Republican leaders have said that a consensus was emerging around a budget that sets spending at $1.028 trillion for the 2013 fiscal year — the same level included in Ryan’s budget adopted a year ago.
Even so, Ryan’s budget will face a key test with fiscal conservatives who pack the House Budget Committee, which he chairs. Republicans on the committee were briefed on the document last week, and the full committee will publicly dissect the plan Wednesday.
The Club for Growth fired a warning shot Friday, arguing in a news release that any budget that fails to eliminate deficits within a decade would be “simply an exercise in futility.” Ryan’s budget last year would have taken nearly 30 years to eliminate the deficit.
The $1.028 trillion spending level is $19 billion less than a spending cap agreed to by both parties in the summer’s contentious deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned last week that requiring more reductions for agencies than those agreed to over the summer would force a new showdown with Democrats that could once again lead to a possible government shutdown.
“This wasn’t only a handshake, a pat on the back. It was a law we passed,” he said.
Centrist Republicans who serve on the Appropriations Committee — responsible for translating Ryan’s budget framework into a series of bills that spell out line-by-line program spending — would also prefer to stick with the debt deal numbers and avoid a possible shutdown when the fiscal year ends Sept. 31, a time when the election will loom large.
Ryan also must decide whether to replicate the Medicare reform package he included in last year’s budget, which would provide seniors payments to purchase private insurance.
He could instead include the revamped version that he unveiled late last year with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. It would preserve a government-run Medicare option alongside new private plans.
Incorporating the bipartisan plan might shield the proposal from some Democratic attacks, but it would result in fewer savings and could anger conservatives.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he is confident that Ryan will produce a budget that can pass both the Budget Committee and the full House.
“The speaker and our entire leadership team have complete confidence that Chairman Ryan and his committee will write a responsible budget,” said spokesman Michael Steel. “We hope that Senate Democrats will do the same.”