As Congress returns from recess this week, House Republicans are set to advance legislation to replace automatic defense spending cuts they agreed to last year with cuts to programs for the poor and working class. The controversial measure is expected to pass the House and die in the Senate, making it largely a political exercise that allows the two parties to contrast the values at the heart of the 2012 election: Should the burden for addressing the country’s long-running fiscal challenges fall to struggling people, or to the wealthiest people in the country?
The proposal — which is an outgrowth of the budget the House GOP overwhelmingly voted for late March — would cut some $261 billion from health care programs, food stamps, unemployment benefits and child tax credits, among others. It constitutes a violation of the GOP’s end of the debt-limit deal, which included painful sacrifices for both parties if the Congress failed to reach a bipartisan deficit-reduction agreement.
The measure would override the $78 billion in defense cuts set take effect January 2013 as a backstop in last August’s debt limit law. Additional cuts are in place for the following nine years. President Obama and Democrats aren’t happy with the so-called “sequestration” cuts either, but they insist they won’t roll them back unless Republicans agree to a balanced deal that combines spending cuts with new revenues taken from wealthy Americans, the latter of which Republicans have blocked for years.
The measure reflects a GOP effort to go to bat for the defense industry in an election year. It also helps them pin the blame for inaction on Democrats, who control the more closely divided Senate.
“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,” reads a recent House GOP leadership memo on the reconciliation bill.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, released a report highlighting the ways the GOP bill would exacerbate poverty. “Next week Democrats will continue to draw a strong contrast between the lopsided Republican plan to protect tax breaks for powerful special interests at the expense of the rest of America,” he said last Thursday. In February, 127 House Dems wrote a letter to Obama saying the military cuts are part of the solution to deficit reduction and should be kept in place.
Unless Republicans drop their anti-tax absolutism, Congress isn’t likely to reach an agreement on replacing the defense cuts at least until after the election.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.