House Republicans passed congressman Paul Ryan's deficit-cutting budget plan on Thursday, setting it up as a central theme for their election-year campaign efforts and as a massive target for Democratic attacks over healthcare cuts.
The Ryan blueprint, which proposes to cut tax rates and slow the growth of federal debt at the expense of social programs, won House approval on a strict party-line vote of 228-191. Ten Republicans voted against it, largely reflecting desires among fiscal conservatives for even deeper spending cuts.
The measure faces certain death in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but some of its components, especially reforms to the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly, will live on in campaign ads, debates and speeches for months to come.
Republicans, including presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, are portraying the Ryan budget as a bold, brave step toward shrinking deficits that have ballooned to trillion-dollar levels during each year of Democratic President Barack Obama's first term.
They hope it will help win voters who are profoundly worried about growing U.S. debt and Obama's stewardship of a still struggling economy.
"We think America's on the wrong track. We believe the president is bringing us toward a debt crisis and a welfare state in decline," said Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, in closing House floor debate.
The Ryan plan would deeply cut the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor by turning it into block grants for states, and it reprises his effort last year to prevent Medicare from "going bankrupt." It proposes a voucher-like system to help seniors buy private health insurance or access to the traditional fee-for-service Medicare system.
Like they did last year, Democrats are already hammering away at the plan as devastating a benefit that elderly Americans depend on, and they have pledged no changes to the program.
In a taste of rhetoric to be delivered to seniors in the months to come, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said there were only a few things that voters needed to know about the Ryan budget.
"They are: ends the Medicare guarantee, ends the Medicare guarantee, ends the Medicare guarantee," she added.