Repeating a tired and disappointing script, House Republicans are poised to pass a bill today that would shred the social safety net for struggling Americans in order to protect defense spending. The Republican plan has no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, but it frames the differing priorities of the two parties: Democrats would pursue a balanced approach to reducing the federal deficit that better protects entitlement and domestic programs by making modest cuts and raising new revenue. Republicans would reduce the deficit with a one-sided approach that slashes domestic spending, holds the military harmless and preserves special-interest tax breaks. Voters will be choosing between these competing visions when they go to the polls in November.
List government programs most essential to providing basic economic security to low-income American families and they are the ones targeted for deep cuts under the Sequester Replacement Act, a bill put together by Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and passed by a party-line vote of the committee Monday. The bill would cut nearly $380 billion over 10 years mostly from social programs. It goes after food security and health care for children, including removing 1.8 million people from food stamps, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The Ryan plan also could eliminate school lunch subsidies for 280,000 children, cut children's health insurance and reduce Medicaid by giving states the ability to alter mandatory coverage. It would end social services block grants to state and local governments, impacting programs such as Meals on Wheels and child care.
Republicans like to talk about tough spending choices to keep the deficit under control, but these new cuts would not affect the deficit. They would be the trade-off for avoiding cuts to defense spending scheduled to automatically go into effect next year. Republicans won't even discuss raising any revenue to mitigate the cuts. An effort by Democrats to reduce cuts by closing tax breaks for oil producers was stymied.
Republicans are trying to stave off military cuts of more than $50 billion next year that would go into effect automatically as part of the deal that ended last year's fight over raising the debt ceiling. Congress eventually voted to raise the ceiling so the country could pay its bills, in exchange for a deficit reduction of $1.2 trillion over 10 years. When a supercommittee couldn't reach an agreement on how to cut spending, automatic across-the-board cuts were teed up, including $600 billion from defense through 2022. Now on the cusp of those cuts going into effect, Republicans are scrambling to find alternatives. The Budget Committee also passed a separate Republican-backed bill that would simply avert the automatic military cuts.
Neither party wants to see cuts to the defense budget next year that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calls "devastating." But only Democrats are willing to generate new revenue as well as cut spending to lessen the blow. The Republican bill that the House will take up today isn't likely to become law. But it is a political statement about the party's priorities, and voters should remember what the devastating consequences would be of this one-sided approach as they consider their choices in this fall's election.