Sequester replacement bill advances in House

During debate, Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said both parties oppose the so-called "sequester" cuts to discretionary spending, but said Republicans were pushing ahead with a bill that seeks to unfairly dodge defense cuts and extract all savings from needed social programs.

"Today, my Republican friends have brought to the floor a reconciliation bill that actually makes sequestration look good," McGovern said.

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Democrats also said the rule does not allow a vote on a Democratic proposal to find a middle ground by calling for some spending cuts and some new tax revenue. House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the Democratic proposal would result in $30 billion in deficit savings by raising another $80 billion through tighter tax rules on companies and the wealthy.

"We propose to do it in the same balanced way that every bipartisan commission that has looked at this issue has recommended — by a combination of difficult cuts … as well as cuts to tax breaks for special interests and by asking the wealthiest people in this country … to contribute a little bit more toward deficit reduction," Van Hollen said.

Republicans defended the bill as a way to avoid defense cuts that even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he opposes. But they said the bill is not a sign that Republicans oppose all defense cuts, as Democrats have charged.

"I believe there is waste and fraud and abuse in the Defense Department, and I stand here willing to work with you to eradicate it all," Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said. Woodall added that the GOP budget resolution cuts $300 billion in defense spending over 10 years, and that the sequester would have taken more money from defense.

The Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act would cut $7.7 billion in federal food stamp spending in the first year, require federal workers to contribute more to retirement plans, end grants for health insurance exchanges, put limits on Medicaid payments and impose various reforms aimed at trimming federal spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the entire bill would turn off about $72 billion of the sequester, and Republicans say it would save $180 billion over the next decade.

The sequester requires $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade. To achieve that level of trimming, Republicans want to lower the discretionary spending caps from last year's Budget Control Act for the next 10 years.

Approval of the rule set up two hours of debate on the bill itself. No amendments are in order, and the House is expected to pass the bill in the early afternoon.

The bill is not expected to be taken up in the Senate, and the White House has said it would veto the bill. Nonetheless, passage will put the House on record as supporting an alternative to the sequester, a move that has given the House leverage in the past, especially when the Senate has been unable to pass an alternative.