Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania unveiled his budget this afternoon at a Capitol Hill press conference. Four conservatives joined him on the dais: Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.).
In his opening remarks, Toomey noted that there are differences between his proposal and the Ryan budget in the House, where long-term entitlement reform is the crux. The goal for his legislation, he said, is to “demonstrate that it is, in fact, possible to balance the budget within ten years without raising taxes.”
Pro-growth tax policies are at the heart of Toomey’s plan. His budget reaches balance by 2020 by lowering federal spending to 18.5 percent of gross domestic product, reforming the tax code, lowering marginal tax rates, and closing tax loopholes. It also reduces the corporate-tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and indexes the alternative minimum tax for inflation.
On defense, Toomey “assumes a full withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan by 2018, contingent on security needs,” and slows the growth of defense spending by using the Pentagon savings identified by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
On health care, Toomey’s budget repeals Obamacare taxes and spending. It also implements a block-grant program for Medicaid, much like Ryan does in his budget. Medicaid spending is gradually reduced to $14 billion above Fiscal Year 2008 levels by 2019.
Toomey’s approach to Medicare, however, generated the most buzz among reporters.
Toomey, a well known supporter of entitlement reform, decided to leave any major changes to Medicare and Social Security out of the mix. This approach, of course, is decidedly different than the comprehensive Ryan budget.
Toomey acknowledged this up front. “It is my view that a permanent solution to the fiscal challenges that we face will require broader reforms than what we have in this budget,” he said. “But this budget represents what we think of as a necessary first step; it reaches a balance.”
Toomey, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, said that he would vote for Ryan’s budget if it was brought to the floor. His budget, he emphasized, was not a competing document. “I see this as a different focus,” he said. “[Ryan’s] goal is long-term, it’s permanent solvency, and he walks through the structural reforms that would achieve that.”
In response to a reporter’s question about why Medicare reform was left out of Toomey’s budget, Rubio said that comparing the two is akin to “talking about apples and oranges. This is a ten-year budget and certainly it could accommodate structural changes that save Medicare.”
DeMint agreed. He said that his ultimate goal, as ever, is to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment. Ratification would take years, so as he pushes for that reform, he is more than comfortable with supporting Toomey’s idea in the interim: addressing tax reform and spending cuts while openly considering a variety of entitlement reforms.
As Democrats demonize the Ryan plan and tag Republicans as Medicare foes, DeMint pointed out that Toomey’s budget is a complement. “As far as taking anything away [from current retirees], we don’t envision that and neither did Paul Ryan’s plan,” DeMint said. “The ten-year window is consistent. I think most of us here support Paul Ryan’s plan in the ten-year window.”
“Senator Toomey has advocated more money for Medicare than the president did,” DeMint observed. “You want to look at real cuts in Medicare, look at what the president is planning at this point.”
Beyond the press-conference speakers, co-sponsors for the measure include Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), and Sen. David Vitter (R., La.).