This was a vote on a Democratic amendment that would have allowed income tax cuts for the wealthy enacted in 2001 and 2003 to expire, cut Defense Department spending by $89 billion over 10 years, cut agricultural subsidies by $20 billion over 10 years, and preserved Medicare as a guaranteed, government-run health care program for the elderly. This amendment was offered to a Republican budget resolution for fiscal year 2012.
This amendment—known as a “substitute amendment”--essentially replaced all of the underlying budget resolution with an alternative budget proposal. Like similar amendments offered by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus, this amendment preserved Medicare as a government-run health care program. By contrast, the underlying Republican budget resolution converted the Medicare program into a private health insurance voucher system for those who were currently 55 or younger. Instead of receiving health care through traditional Medicare, which is essentially a single payer health insurance program for the elderly, seniors would receive a subsidy from the federal government to purchase health insurance in the private market. Unlike the Republican budget plan, this amendment would have preserved Medicare as a single payer system.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) urged support for this amendment: “…Our top priority in this Congress should be to support a robust economic recovery and put America back to work….It reduces the deficit in a steady, predictable way without slashing important investments in our kids' education and strategic national investments, without ending the Medicare guarantee, and without putting seniors, disabled individuals and kids at risk who rely on Medicare…We believe America's greatness is rooted not only in a collection of individuals acting alone but from our capacity to work together for the common good. We believe that is a patriotic vision of America.”
Van Hollen also argued: “We do not see the government as an enemy but as the imperfect instrument by which we can accomplish together as a people what no individual or single corporation can do alone….We also believe we can do that while making cuts, and we make sensible, targeted cuts. But we do it in a smart way, not with a meat ax that threatens the fragile recovery. We also agree…that security spending should be part of this debate. Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has stated, and I quote, that the most significant threat to our national security is our national debt. There is growing bipartisan consensus that those security agencies must themselves be part of our effort to reduce our debt and strengthen our country.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) opposed the Democratic budget amendment: “…We just have a different definition of `fiscal responsibility,' I suppose. This [Democratic] budget, relative to the mark, to the base budget we're talking about [the underlying Republican budget resolution], increases spending by $4.5 trillion, raises taxes by $2 trillion, and it adds $2.4 trillion to the deficit compared to the base bill we're talking about here….Secretary Gates has warned us that such [Defense Department] cuts would leave the military unable to meet its current missions. And using his words: `Setting indiscriminate targets to scrimp on defense is math, not strategy.' I think it's very important that we recognize our priorities. Number one, national defense is the primary responsibility of the federal government. When our war fighters tell us this doesn't allow them to have the tools to keep them safe, the equipment they need to prosecute their jobs, I think that's not responsible. When our economy is struggling to get out of a very deep recession, over $2 trillion in tax increases I just don't think is responsible.”
[The annual budget resolution is essentially a blueprint for all federal government spending. Budget resolutions do not have the force of law, but rather set the parameters for all future congressional actions relating to the federal budget. For example, all government spending bills must abide by the funding limits established by the budget resolution in order to comply with House and Senate rules. (“Emergency spending,” such as disaster relief or war funding, is exempted from this requirement.)]
The House rejected this Democratic budget amendment by a vote of 166-259. Voting “yea” were 166 Democrats, including a majority of progressives. All 236 Republicans present and 23 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have allowed income tax cuts for the wealthy enacted in 2001 and 2003 for wealthy taxpayers to expire, cut Defense Department spending by $89 billion over 10 years, cut agricultural subsidies by $20 billion over 10 years, and preserved Medicare as a guaranteed, government-run health care program for the elderly.