Washington Digest: House Republicans approve budget blueprint


WASHINGTON — House Republicans last week approved a blueprint for balancing the budget in 10 years, mostly by cutting taxes, revamping social programs and making deep cuts in domestic spending.

The House voted 219-205 for a plan that calls for $5.1 trillion in spending reductions over the next decade. No Democrat supported it.

Proponents said the budget will cut wasteful spending and create jobs. A dozen Republicans voted against it, with some arguing for further reforms to require that the federal budget balance each year.

The plan crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., proposes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, restructure Medicare and Medicaid, and impose no new taxes as it seeks to end deficit spending by 2020.

Ryan argued that the national debt is heading to catastrophic levels that threaten to leave future generations with a lower standard of living and a government unable to meet its growing obligations.

“We in our generation have to make tough choices. We have got to face up to this issue,” he said.

Democrats argued that the Ryan plan favors the wealthy by leaving tax loopholes untouched while imposing draconian cuts on programs for the poor, elderly and students.

“Because they say hands off the most powerful and the most privileged, their budget has to come after everybody else, and it does,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

The Democrat-controlled Senate plans to ignore the House measure. They argue that no resolution is needed this year because a two-year budget framework was reached in December.

Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted for it. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, opposed it.

Pay equity bill blocked in Senate

The Senate failed to move forward with legislation designed to help women receive equal pay for equal work. Republicans objected the effort was motivated by election year politics.

Democrats had pushed the bill claiming that women on average earn 77 cents on the dollar despite anti-discrimination laws already on the books. Republicans charged Democrats with overstating the wage disparity and underplaying career and family choices that account for much of the pay difference.

The Paycheck Fairness Act failed on a procedural vote requiring a 60-vote majority. It failed 53-44 with no Republican in support.

The bill would have narrowed the reasons employers could use for paying different wages to workers carrying out similar tasks, allowed workers to discuss salaries openly, and imposed additional reporting requirements on employers.

“I am at a loss as to why anyone would decline to debate this important issue or, if you don’t like it, come and tell us why. Debate is what this institution is all about,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., complained that the effort was a political game and that Democrats refused to consider Republican proposals to boost the economy.

“Americans actually want solutions and they want them now,” he said. “We owe it to them to start passing the kinds of innovative ideas Republicans are committed to pursuing.”

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted for it. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., opposed it.

Long-term benefits bill for jobless clears Senate

The Senate approved a bill that would extend temporarily federal unemployment benefits that jobless Americans can tap after exhausting their basic 26 weeks of state-provided payments.

The 59-38 vote to extend the program through May came after months of debate over how to pay for the additional cost. The program expired on Dec. 28, cutting off checks that averaged $300 per week to 1.7 million jobless Americans, a number that has grown beyond 2.5 million as benefits exhaust for more people.

The bill would provide retroactive benefits to Dec. 28. Democrats and Republicans agreed to offset the $10 billion cost through an extension of certain customs fees and changes in pension accounting.

The bill faces an uncertain future in the House.

Pryor voted in favor. Boozman opposed it.