Republicans pass deep spending cuts, aim at Obamacare

The U.S. Capitol building is seen before President Barack Obama arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg (Reuters)

By David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed the first joint House-Senate budget plan in six years on Thursday, a measure that aids the party's goal of dismantling President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law this year. The Republican-authored plan would eliminate deficits by 2024 through deep cuts to social programs while increasing military spending by nearly $40 billion next year. It passed 226-197 largely on party lines. No Democrats supported it, while 14 Republicans voted against it. The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to pass the budget plan next week. Because it is a non-binding resolution, Obama does not sign it into law. The budget seeks to slash about $5.3 trillion from domestic spending over 10 years, with deep cuts to programs that serve the poor, education and infrastructure. It contains no tax increases. Republicans hailed it as the first balanced budget plan since a brief period of U.S. surpluses from 1998 through 2001. "It will not only get Washington's fiscal house in order but pave the way for stronger economic growth, more jobs and more opportunity," Republican Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price said on the House floor. Democrats derided the plan as claiming a "phony" balance by calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act but maintaining tax revenue levels associated with the law. The plan also skirts "sequester" spending caps to boost military budgets by funneling $38 billion to an off-budget war operations account next year. "This agreement uses gimmicks to balance the budget, and does so on the backs of the poor and the middle class and senior citizens," said Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat. While most of the prescribed cuts in the blueprint will be ignored as Congress pivots to annual government agency spending bills, its passage gives Republicans a rare opportunity to use a budget procedural tool that would ease the repeal or replacement of "Obamacare." This will allow them to pass such legislation with only a simple majority in the Senate, rather than a nearly impossible 60-vote threshold that would require the support of some Democrats. While Obama has vowed to veto any attempt to dismantle Obamacare, he may be forced to compromise with Republicans if a Supreme Court ruling in June strikes down the health insurance subsidy structure at the heart of the law. (Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)