The Republican-led House voted Thursday to block impending cuts to the nation’s defense budget and replace them with reductions in spending on food stamps, Medicaid and other social welfare programs.
The bill passed 218-199 with no support from Democrats, who decried the legislation as an attack on the needy.
“This package literally takes food off the table for millions of disadvantaged Americans,” said Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif.
While the measure has no chance of passing the Democratically led Senate, it is the first legislative attempt to head off the looming threat of automatic budget cuts that would be triggered if Congress failed to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings by the end of the year.
That was the figure the two debt-conscious parties agreed on last summer as part of a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit by $2.1 trillion. A bipartisan “supercommittee” failed to come up with a plan to produce the revenue earlier this year through either cuts or tax increases. Now, if Congress can’t come up with a plan, the cuts will occur automatically and across the entire budget, including at the Pentagon, by 2013.
While Republicans want to produce the savings by slashing domestic spending, Democrats favor a plan that would increase taxes on the wealthy and big oil companies.
Republicans argued Thursday the federal budget is still fat enough that domestic programs could be reduced without eliminating programs on which the poor rely. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., noted the Republican bill would simply reduce the growth in Medicaid spending over the next decade from 125 percent to 123 percent.
“Only in Washington is this considered draconian cuts,” Ryan said. “It’s slowing the growth of spending.”
The bill raises revenue by increasing pension contributions from federal workers by 5 percent — a move that would result in less take-home pay.
“We believe the federal workforce will not like this, but they will accept that this allows them to say our package is not inherently more generous than the private sector,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., whose district includes thousands of federal employees, accused Republicans are demonizing the government workforce.
“You treat federal employees in this House as second-class citizens,” Hoyer said. “This is a 5 percent tax increase on federal employees.”
The Republican bill was intended to avoid $55 billion in defense cuts that would kick in next year, reductions the GOP claimed would undermine the nation’s security.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon said cuts would force a reduction in troops and equipment and hinder the nation’s ability to respond to military emergencies in hot spots like North Korea and Iran.
“Two hundred thousand troops will be taken out of the Army and the Marines, bringing our force level down below pre-9/11 levels,” the California Republican said.
Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, of Ohio, accused Republicans of trying to justify trading “bombs for bread,” and noted that the defense budget itself is the source of billions in government fraud and waste.
“The real difference that we are dealing with here is a moral deficit, and it’s time that we face the truth,” Kucinich said.