The House voted Thursday to override steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget mandated by last summer's debt deal and replace them with spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs.
While doomed in the Senate and opposed by the White House, the legislation, which would reduce the deficit by $243 billion, is a Republican marker for post-election budget talks with the White House.
Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Roscoe Bartlett (Md.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Tim Johnson (Ill.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Steve LaTourette (Ohio), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Todd Platts (Pa.), Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and Frank Wolf (Va.). GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.) voted present.
Republicans cast the bill as a first step back toward controlling federal spending, after years of allowing spending and deficits to balloon.
“We believe the purpose of the sequester was to replace the fact that Congress isn't governing,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said during the opening debate on the bill. “Well, let's have Congress govern. That's why we're doing this.”
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Both parties are looking to avoid $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to Pentagon and domestic discretionary spending that are mandated to begin in 2013 because of the failure of the deficit supercommittee to agree to a deficit-reduction plan. The entire process was set up by the 2011 deal between Congress and the White House to raise the debt ceiling.
The House bill would leave pending mandatory cuts in place, including cuts to Medicare. It would turn off $72 billion in cuts to both the Pentagon and non-defense spending mandated by sequestration, but add $315 billion in new cuts, none of which are imposed on the Pentagon.
Under the House-approved legislation, food stamp eligibility is tightened, the Prevention and Public Health Trust Fund under the 2010 healthcare law is ended, the Federal Medicaid match to states is reduced, new stricter eligibility standards for Medicaid are imposed, and the Social Services Block Grant, which funds Meals on Wheels, is ended.
More savings come from cutting all funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, cutting federal worker pay and through medical tort reform.
The cuts would reduce the overall discretionary spending cap for 2013 by $19 billion below the level set in the debt deal.
But the GOP bill is highly controversial because it completely exempts defense cuts and focuses cuts only on social programs, a move Democrats blasted as the bill was debated.
“Today, my Republican friends have brought to the floor a reconciliation bill that actually makes sequestration look good,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the bill part of the "Republican, Ryan, Tea Party" budget that she said would "assault women's health" and hurt families by "literally taking food out of the mouths of babies."
Democrats offered an alternative that also included no defense cuts, but they bristled at the absence in the GOP bill of any new tax revenue, which they say should help contribute to deficit reduction, and rejected language in the bill that requires government workers to contribute more to their retirement.
“Federal employees … are ready to participate … but do not ask them to do it alone,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Democrats tried unsuccessfully to convince Republicans to let them to offer an alternative plan as an amendment. That proposal would have cut $24 billion in farm subsidies, saved $5 billion by reforming the National Flood Insurance Program reform, and raised $84 billion by imposing a “Buffet Rule” tax on the wealthy and increasing taxes on the five biggest oil and gas companies.
But Republicans said the Democratic language didn't do enough, and mostly relied on tax increases to reduce the deficit.
“The gentleman's substitute raises taxes $85 billion and raises spending $55 billion on the net, to achieve … $30 billion in deficit reduction,” Ryan said on the House floor. The GOP bill, in contrast, “achieves $243 billion in deficit reduction without raising taxes.”
House passage sends the bill to a Senate that has said it would not consider it at all; the White House has also issued a veto threat.
The bill the House passed is technically a budget reconciliation measure and if the Senate were to act on the bill it would be free from filibuster. Reconciliation was used to speed passage of President Obama’s health reform and the Bush tax cuts.
Seven members in each party missed the vote.