House lawmakers return to deficit battle

House lawmakers will return to a familiar debate over the deficit when they come back to Washington on Monday following a weeklong recess.

Republican leaders are planning to bring up a $260 billion measure to slash the budget gap and replace across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in 2013.

ADVERTISEMENT
The bill, known as a “reconciliation” proposal, is the product of six House committees and will be combined into one piece of legislation by the House Budget Committee. Democrats have already panned it as an extension of the House GOP proposal that “reflects the wrong priorities” by protecting tax cuts for the wealthy and cutting programs for the poor.

Principally, the GOP measure would replace $78 billion in sequestered cuts resulting from the failure of the congressional “supercommittee” to strike a bipartisan deficit deal last fall. Both Republican leaders and the Pentagon have warned against what they say are arbitrary cuts to defense spending.

“Intended as a mechanism to force action, there is bipartisan agreement that the sequester going into place would undercut key responsibilities of the federal government,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders wrote to their members last week in an updated memo describing the reconciliation process.

In addition to the $78 billion in sequester replacement, the bill contains an additional $180 billion in cuts aimed at reducing the deficit. Among the federal programs hit are food stamps, funding for the 2010 healthcare and financial regulatory laws and the refundable child tax credit.

Democrats on the House Budget Committee assailed the cuts in an 11-page report issued this week.

“The deep spending cuts coming through the Republican reconciliation instructions and the sequestration of spending scheduled under the Budget Control Act are neither the right nor only ways to reduce the deficit,” the report stated. It cited alternative deficit-reduction ideas in both President Obama’s and the House Democratic budget proposals, which called for higher taxes on the wealthy.

Yet Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, told The Hill on Thursday that the party had not decided whether to offer its own complete proposal to replace the automatic cuts this week.

Any bipartisan agreement on changes to the sequester are not expected to come before a lame-duck congressional session after the November elections.

House Republicans this week also plan to bring up the first of 12 annual appropriations bills – proposed 2013 spending for the departments of Justice, Commerce, Science and related agencies. After falling behind schedule last year, Boehner has made it a priority to return to regular order on appropriations before the fall campaign season.

The other significant piece of legislation the House is likely to vote on this week is a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, following a tentative deal struck between Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Erik Wasson contributed.