WASHINGTON – House and Senate Republicans steamed ahead Tuesday toward likely approval of balanced budget outlines, essential early steps along a path to send President Barack Obama legislation to wipe out his five-year-old health care law and eliminate deficits within a decade.
Obama is all but certain to veto the follow-up legislation if and when it reaches his desk later this year, but Republican rebels and establishment-minded conservatives alike in the House paid that little mind.
"I campaigned ... with my heart and soul to get rid of Obamacare and it's the one shot that we've got to get something on his desk," said Rep. Matt Salmon, an Arizonan who occasionally clashes with his leadership.
At a news conference, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the third-ranking GOP leader in the House, cited two reasons for the rank and file to approve the budget, saying it would "get our economy moving again, and also set the stage for a repeal of Obamacare."
Democrats criticized the plans in both houses without letup, particular the repeal of the health care law and the billions of dollars in recommended cuts to social programs at the heart of the GOP deficit-reduction program.
Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the Senate Republicans' budget protects the super-rich at the same time it "takes health care away from 16.4 million Americans ... wreaks havoc on Medicare ... makes drastic cuts to Medicaid ... and guts nutrition assistance for those in need."
Said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, "It would devastate American families."
In a decades-old political ritual used to embarrass presidents of both parties, Senate Republicans forced a vote late in the day on Obama's budget, which includes higher taxes on the wealthy and smokers, far more spending than Republicans favor and unending deficits.
The plan failed, 98-1, with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., casting the sole vote in its favor.
A final vote was expected Wednesday on the House plan, and late Thursday or early Friday on the Senate's slightly different version.
Next, Republicans hope to forge a compromise budget quickly, settling on non-binding targets for spending and taxes. After that would come legislation to implement the plan, a bill that congressional rules say cannot be subjected to a filibuster in the Senate.
While the House and Senate budget proposal plans differ, they both hew to the same principles — an overhaul of the tax code and an end to red ink in 10 years or less. That would mean roughly $5 trillion in cuts in projected spending over the next 10 years, much of it from the presumed repeal of the health care law, and the balance from changes to Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and other benefit programs.
The House proposal also called for remaking Medicare into a voucher-like program in which new beneficiaries beginning in 2024 would shop for coverage from private insurers, a recommendation so controversial that the Senate alternative omitted it.
Both the House and Senate proposed increasing defense spending over currently projected levels, with Republicans sensitive about not falling behind Obama's own recommended increase for the Pentagon.
That concern produced what passed for last-minute suspense in the House. There, the leadership decided to allow votes on rival plans, one with recommended defense spending about $2 billion higher than the other. The alternative with more support would advance to a final vote later in the week.
Republicans have sought to repeal health care since its enactment five years ago.
The House has voted more than 60 times since then to repeal part or all of it, only to have its handiwork die in a Senate that until January was under Democratic control.
Now, with Republicans in control of the Senate, House Republicans have every expectation that a repeal measure would pass both houses and go to the White House.
Salmon said there was value in forcing the president to reject the measure, as opposed to having the bill die in the Senate. He said the president had been shielded from having to make a choice in the past.
Despite Scalise's unambiguous comments about using follow-up legislation to repeal the health care law, one senior member of the leadership said no decision had been made along those lines. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said, "you don't predetermine" what to include, and said it was possible Republicans would use the filibuster-proof bill to overhaul the tax code.