Dueling budget speeches from Ellison and Bachmann

In Washington, the sun is out and the trees are blooming. But lawmakers haven’t had much of a chance to enjoy the spring weather because they’re locked in a series of struggles over this year’s and next year’s budget priorities.

To recap: the House never passed a budget last year so the government has been kept open through a series of stopgap funding bills. The latest bill expires Friday at midnight and Republicans have demanded deep cuts and policy provisions that the Democratic-controlled Senate won’t abide by.

Standing in front of the Capitol today before a crowd of several hundred tea party supporters, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann said Democrats are putting “us on a course for planned bankruptcy” and that government spending must be cut immediately.

Bachmann said Republicans don’t want a government shutdown and that Democrats are to blame if a deal on this year’s spending isn’t reached. But in a reflection of tea party sentiment, minutes earlier the crowd had chanted, “shut it down,” and signs at the protest had a similar message.

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Shifting to the next budget battle, Rep. Paul Ryan proposed a spending plan for 2012 and beyond yesterday dubbed, “The Path to Prosperity” that Republicans say would balance the federal budget within 40 years.

The Wisconsin Republican’s plan would dramatically change the Medicare program, which pays for health care for those 65 and older, by replacing it with a system of vouchers for seniors. Medicaid, a joint program with the states that provides health coverage to the poor, would be replaced with a block grant program with looser coverage requirements for states.

Standing outside of the Budget Committee hearing room this morning, DFL Rep. Keith Ellison and fellow members of the left-leaning Congressional Progressive Caucus denounced Ryan’s budget, which they called, “Ryan’s road map to ruin.”

“Our seniors, who have cut a path for all of us to walk behind, have got to have dignity in their lives as they are in their golden years,” said Ellison.

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Ellison said progressive Democrats will come up with their own proposal to balance the budget which would retain the traditional social safety net by emphasizing tax hikes rather than the tax cuts proposed by Ryan.

The budget proposed by Ryan stands little chance of being adopted by the Democrat-controlled Senate. That means that the current standoff over spending, with its noisy rallies and heated rhetoric, may carry into next year as both parties continue to wield the budget weapon against their political opponents.

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