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Talks to Begin on Budget Measure       04/20 06:15

   Cuts to Medicare and the health care law and almost $40 billion in 
unrequested money for overseas war-fighting operations top the agenda as 
congressional negotiators meet to begin ironing out a Republican budget 
blueprint for next year and beyond.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Cuts to Medicare and the health care law and almost $40 
billion in unrequested money for overseas war-fighting operations top the 
agenda as congressional negotiators meet to begin ironing out a Republican 
budget blueprint for next year and beyond.

   Separate House- and Senate-passed budget plans have plenty in common. Both 
chambers want to use the fast-track budget process to send a measure repealing 
the health care law to President Barack Obama. And both call for padding war 
spending --- it's exempt from budget limits --- on new weapons and training of 
American forces.

   At issue is a nonbinding measure for the 2016 fiscal year starting on Oct. 
1. Both House and Senate Republicans have endorsed major cuts to programs such 
as Medicare, Medicaid, highway projects and domestic agency budgets as a way to 
bring the federal ledger into balance within a decade --- all without raising 
taxes.

   Under Capitol Hill's arcane budget rules, Congress first passes a 
nonbinding, illustrative document called a budget resolution. Such measures are 
sweeping in scope, but their practical impact is most directly felt through 
follow-up legislation funding agency operating budgets, cutting or raising 
taxes and making changes to benefit programs whose budgets otherwise run as if 
on autopilot.

   Without a willing partner in the Oval Office, Republicans are showing few 
signs that they want to use their congressional majorities to actually try to 
implement their most controversial proposed cuts with binding legislation. 
That's a more cautious approach than Newt Gingrich-led Republicans took 20 
years ago when they stormed Washington and delivered a balanced budget to 
President Bill Clinton, who promptly vetoed it and won a subsequent government 
shutdown battle.

   There is little appetite now for a big budget battle, but House Republicans 
have opened the door to using a follow-up spending cut bill to do more than 
simply gash Obama's health care law. Legislation to curb Postal Service costs 
and end Saturday mail delivery is an option, as are cuts to food stamps, Pell 
Grants, student loans and subsidies for rural air service, among others.

   Senate Republicans, however, are more cautious and haven't detailed many of 
their proposed cuts. They have rejected a House GOP plan to turn Medicare into 
a voucher-like program for future retirees, and they are less aggressive in 
curbing spending on programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.

   Senate Republicans have signaled that they prefer a focused attack on the 
health care law they call "Obamacare" rather than a broader push to tackle 
deficits. They anticipate that only two committees, both with jurisdiction over 
the health care law, will draft a special filibuster-proof budget measure known 
as a reconciliation bill. House Republicans have told 13 committees to scrub 
the budget for savings for a potential reconciliation measure.

   One difference between the House and Senate is how easy it is to skirt 
budget rules and permit up to $38 billion in extra war funding to effectively 
match Obama's proposal to scrap current budget "caps" and eliminate automatic 
cuts known as sequestration. The House is more generous and would make it easy 
to deliver the additional money to the Defense Department. But Senate budget 
hawks such as Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have insisted on a procedural hurdle that 
would force defense hawks to muster 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to 
deliver the extra cash to the Pentagon.

   The debate over the budget ignores the role Obama will play in ultimately 
signing the Pentagon budget --- and those of domestic agencies --- into law. 
Obama is demanding more money for domestic agencies, and it's commonly assumed 
that any agreement between him and Republicans controlling Congress is several 
months away.


(KA)


 
 
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