The U.S. House voted to cut food stamps, federal workers’ benefits, and other domestic programs to avoid scheduled reductions in defense spending.
The chamber today passed, 218 to 199, a plan to cut about $310 billion in spending to replace automatic defense-spending reductions that lawmakers in both parties agree shouldn’t be allowed to take effect in January.
“It’s important that we make sure that we’re scrutinizing how we’re spending hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican.
Democrats lined up against the measure, H.R. 5652, saying it would put too much of the deficit burden on the needy. The proposal goes to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is doomed to failure.
The Republican plan is one that “asks nothing of Mr. Exxon, that asks nothing more of hedge fund managers, but asks those who are most vulnerable in our society to share more pain,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat.
The automatic spending reductions due to begin in January are triggered by a so-called supercommittee’s failure last year to come up with a plan to reduce the $1.2 trillion federal budget deficit. About $55 billion would be subtracted next year from the Pentagon budget, with an equal amount from non-defense programs.
Though the plan faces a veto threat from President Barack Obama, it offers a preview of what Republicans may seek after the November elections, when lawmakers consider in earnest whether to replace the automatic cuts with a new plan.
It also represents a political risk for Republicans. While they say voters will reward them for making tough budget choices, their plan is opposed by many outside groups. Among them are AARP, the advocacy group for the elderly; the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes reductions in aid to the poor; the National Council of La Raza, which criticized the plan’s effect on illegal immigrants, and the National Treasury Employees Union, representing federal workers.
House Democrats offered an alternative that relies mostly on tax increases, including imposing a minimum tax on millionaires. It would curb various business-related tax breaks, cut farm subsidies, and raise premiums for the government’s flood-insurance program. House Republicans refused to allow a vote on the Democratic plan.
“Apparently our Republican colleagues are kind of worried about what we were going to propose,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee. “Let’s ask people who are making over $1 million a year to get rid of some of their tax breaks, to help pay for our common defense so we don’t have to have a budget that whacks everyone else.”
The Republicans’ plan would reduce government spending by about $310 billion over a decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It would cut off food stamps to 1.8 million Americans, according to CBO, while reducing aid to millions more. About 280,000 children who now receive food stamps would no longer be automatically eligible for free school lunches, CBO said.
The bill would make it easier for state governments to cut enrollment in Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, and eliminate Social Services block grants, which fund programs such as Meals on Wheels.
It would make it harder for illegal immigrants to claim a child tax credit and would require federal workers to pay more for their pensions, which CBO has said are more generous than private-sector retirement benefits.
Other provisions would reduce funding for the administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, tighten medical malpractice laws, and reduce Medicaid payments to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. It would allow some elements of the scheduled cuts to take effect, including a two percent reduction in Medicare spending.
Republicans say tough choices are necessary and that many of the cuts are designed to clamp down on waste. They say some state governments have stretched the rules and allowed too many people to collect food stamps.
“What we’re simply saying is people should actually be eligible for the benefits they receive,” said Ryan.
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