Rep. Van Hollen: GOP sequester bill built on 'pork-barrel politics'

A House GOP plan to cut social welfare programs to stave off automatic defense spending reductions is yet another example of the political "games being played with defense and national security" by Republicans, a top House Democrat said Monday. 

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, slammed House Republicans’ plan to shave $243 billion from the national deficit. 

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Van Hollen called the proposal "congressional, pork-barrel politics" in a conference call with reporters on Monday. "Despite the rhetoric ... [that's] what it comes down to," he said, accusing GOP lawmakers of blocking legislation that could better protect funding for national security priorities.

His comments come days after the GOP-controlled House blocked a Democratic debt-relief plan from coming to the floor for a vote. Led by Van Hollen, the Democratic plan would have implemented cuts to government farm subsidies and ended federal payouts to oil companies. The plan would have eliminated a portion of the $500 billion the White House ordered the Pentagon to cut from its coffers over the next decade.

Republicans on the House Rules Committee blocked Van Hollen's plan from coming to the House floor for a vote last Thursday. 

The GOP plan, which was approved by a party-line vote of 233-183, however, calls for sharp cuts to the federal food stamps and national school lunch programs, and limits Medicaid payments to pay for the defense budget cuts. 

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

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday the Republican plan was a recipe for "confrontation [and] gridlock" that will only make automatic defense cuts more likely to happen. 

Van Hollen claimed that Republicans were using the Defense Department as a shield to push through their political agenda. 

The GOP plan looks to salvage the Pentagon "on the backs of those who need school lunches," the Maryland Democrat said. 

Republicans, though, defend the bill as a way to avoid defense cuts even Panetta has said he opposes. GOP lawmakers also say their bill is not a sign that they oppose all defense cuts, as some Democrats allege.

The GOP bill is not expected to be taken up in the Senate, and the Obama administration has vowed to veto the bill if it reached the White House.

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