House Democrats release alternative budget plan

By Sean McCalley
Federal News Radio

House Democrats on the Budget Committee released their own version of a fiscal year 2016 budget. It is similar in many ways to the White House budget plan and starkly contrasts the House Republican plan released last week.

The plan would appropriate $3.7 trillion and add almost $6 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years.

The Democrats’ plan, introduced by Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), would further change the Budget Control Act to allow agencies more financial flexibility. Unlike the Republican plan to restore normalized funding to the Defense Department while continuing to scale back domestic programs, the Democrats want to restore funding for both defense and non-defense agencies.

“It’s different from the President’s [budget plan] in some respects,” said Van Hollen in a conference call. “In many places in the overall architecture it is similar to the President’s, but it does have some important differences.”

Most of those differences, though, relate to health care policy implementation and Medicare beneficiaries.

But the plan does leave Congress room to keep pushing for federal pay increases, like the recent House and Senate bills to grant a 3.8 percent pay raise. President Barack Obama’s budget calls for a 1.3 percent raise for feds.

The budget plan by House Democrats also places a slight barrier in front of potential efforts to reduce the size of the federal workforce, by requiring an assessment to examine how reductions would impact the government. The non-security related workforce has declined 33 percent since 1975, according to Democrats, and a quarter of employees will be retirement-eligible in five years.

The House will debate several different budget plans this week.

GOP leaders say they will amend their budget to add $38 billion more in funding for overseas military and diplomatic accounts to the $58 billion requested by the White House. They will have to overcome opposition from deficit hawks who sought to hold the line against new spending that would increase next year’s projected deficit.

In the Senate, Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) won approval of a plan to add $38 billion in additional war funding as a way to try to get around binding budget caps on the Pentagon. But the measure also contains language than leaves the money vulnerable to a procedural challenge that would require a 60-vote super-majority of the Senate’s 100 members to waive. Democrats argue that means Graham’s move amounts to a pyrrhic victory on defense spending.

Meanwhile, a group of GOP conservatives released a budget plan with even sharper cuts to domestic programs in hopes of balancing the budget within six years instead of the nine years envisioned by the measure approved by the Budget Committee last week.

The Republican Study Committee proposal, which will be voted on later in the week by the full House, includes savings of $184 billion from Social Security, in part by holding down annual cost-of-living increases in benefits. It calls for gradually raising the age of eligibility of Medicare to 67 from its current 65, and envisions other savings from other benefit programs that exceed House Budget Committee proposals.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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