Wednesday March 13, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- For U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, House Republicans' latest federal budget plan invoked a cinematic theme -- "Groundhog Day."

Citing the popular movie in which a bombastic weatherman must relive the same day over and over, the Democrat contends he's seen this same budget document again and again.

And Vermont's sole congressman was sharply critical of a plan that calls for cuts in domestic programs and Medicare along with -- in what Welch says is the 35th such proposal -- repeal of ObamaCare.

"This is just a wasted opportunity," Welch said Tuesday.

The budget plan was released by Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee and was Mitt Romney's running mate in the latter's unsuccessful run for the White House last year.

Rep. Peter Welch
Rep. Peter Welch

The plan relies on deep spending cuts and a tax-code overhaul to balance the federal budget within a decade. Among the proposed changes is a repeal of President Barack Obama's health-care reform plan, a move that the GOP reportedly claims would save $1.8 trillion over 10 years.

The Associated Press reported that the Ryan budget would preserve Pentagon spending while making cuts in domestic programs including Medicaid and food stamps.

Also, for those currently under age 55, the plan reportedly would replace the current Medicare setup in favor of a government subsidy to buy health insurance.

Welch says that represents nothing more than "gutting" Medicare and raising health-care costs for the elderly.


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"It's not system reform," he said. "It's cost-shifting."

Welch also decried "tax cuts for the well off" and reiterated his position that military spending must be reigned in.

"The Pentagon budget has become bloated," Welch said. "That's a fiscal problem and a national security problem."

The Associated Press declared the Ryan budget "dead on arrival" given White House opposition and Democratic control of the Senate. But Welch said the GOP spending plan's impracticality is damaging.

"This is an indulgent restatement of these so-called principles that the American people rejected in the last election," he said.

During a visit to Brattleboro last month, Welch said he found encouraging signs of bipartisanship in Congress in recent weeks. He stuck by that stance on Tuesday, saying there are signals that Democrats and Republicans can work together on issues such as immigration reform.

But that's not happening when it comes time to talk finances, Welch said.

"On the budget side, it's all about ideology and doctrine," he said.

While Ryan's budget is a proposal for next fiscal year, there is yet another financial deadline quickly approaching in Washington. On March 27, the latest federal spending plan expires, and lawmakers must agree on another "continuing resolution" to keep the government running.

Welch said those talks are well under way.

"Most of us are optimistic that there will be a continuing resolution," he said.

However, the large-scale cuts known as the "sequester" already have gone into effect because the two parties cannot agree on a long-term debt-reduction plan.

Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders earlier this week blasted those cuts in domestic spending, saying families will be affected by decreases in rental assistance, fuel aid and Head Start funding.

"At a time when middle-class families in Vermont and across the country are disappearing, unemployment is sky-high and millions of families are struggling economically, we cannot simply cut, cut and cut," Sanders said.

The longtime independent has called for eliminating tax breaks for corporations and higher-income individuals.

"We have got to eliminate loopholes in the tax code that allow large corporations and the wealthy to avoid more than $100 billion in taxes every year by setting up offshore tax shelters in places like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Bahamas," Sanders said.

Welch said he has heard a variety of complaints from Vermonters about the sequester cuts since they took effect March 1.

"It's everything from workers who are facing furlough . . . to folks who had White House tours (planned)," Welch said.

"The sequester will have a cumulative effect over time," he added. "It will be a drag on the economy."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.