WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg was one of 10 Republicans voting “no” Thursday on the GOP leadership’s budget proposal, saying he couldn’t support a proposal that might put the Medicare program in jeopardy.
“Now is not the time to experiment with Medicare,” the Montana congressman said in an interview at his Washington, D.C., office, less than an hour after casting his vote at the House chambers in the Capitol.
The Republican-controlled House passed the $3.5 trillion budget Thursday afternoon on a 228-191 vote, although the vote is somewhat symbolic.
The Democratic-controlled Senate won’t accept it and the Obama administration put out a statement blasting it as a budget that “showers millionaires and billionaires with a massive tax cut paid for by ending Medicare as we know it and making extremely deep cuts to critical programs needed to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.”
Still, the House will use the budget as a blueprint to start putting together a spending proposal for fiscal 2013.
Rehberg, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that handles health, human services, labor and education budgets, said subcommittee chairs met Thursday at the Capitol and were told they’d soon get spending targets for their panels, tied to the budget resolution passed Thursday.
Each panel will craft a spending plan that will end up in budget negotiations later this year between the House and Senate. However, it’s likely those negotiations may not occur until after the November election.
The GOP budget proposal, authored primarily by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would collapse the current six federal income tax brackets to two and lower the top rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.
It would repeal the 2010 health care reforms, cut highway and rail projects, and cut research and aid to college students and farmers, but ease planned cuts in defense.
It also would refashion Medicare, the government’s health insurance plan for older Americans. For those currently 55 and younger, Medicare would become a voucher-like system, in which the government helps subsidize the purchase of private insurance.
Rehberg, who voted against Ryan’s GOP budget plan last year because of a similar Medicare proposal, said there are some good things in this year’s plan, but that it increases uncertainty about Medicare when the program already faces a potentially shaky future.
“It was wrong when Democrats pushed through harmful changes to Medicare in 2009 and it’s wrong for Republicans to try and do the same thing in 2012,” he said, referring to Medicare changes in President Barack Obama’s signature health reform bill.
Rehberg also is locked in a high-profile election battle with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Tester’s campaign Thursday ripped Rehberg for voting against all alternative budget proposals put forth in the House this week, saying Rehberg hasn’t offered anything that he favors.
“He believes he’s no longer accountable to the people of Montana, yet he wants to be their senator,” said Aaron Murphy, campaign spokeswoman for Tester.
Rehberg said he found it odd that Tester’s camp is criticizing him for voting against a budget that Democrats are criticizing, and that he has proposed substantial budget cuts – namely, ending the president’s major health care proposals that would create billions of dollars in new spending.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.