The Washington Post

House passes bill to shield Pentagon from automatic spending cuts

This undated U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) image shows an aerial view of the Pentagon in Washington, DC. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Republican-led House has agreed to replace deep budget cuts scheduled to hit the Pentagon in January with a series of reductions in funding for food stamps, Medicaid and regulation of the financial sector.

The House approved the package that would save $242.8 billion over 10 years on a party-line 218 to 199 vote. No Democrats supported the package; sixteen Republicans opposed it.

Republicans said it was designed to replace a portion of the $110 billion cut that will hit the federal budget in January if Congress doesn’t act.

Democrats who control the Senate are opposed to the House bill — Thursday’s vote amounted more to a vision statement by Republicans to define how they want to deal with the specter of the automatic budget cut.

That hit would come virtually across the board but would be split evenly between military and domestic spending and is the first phase of a $1.2 trillion budget cut Congress designed to go into effect automatically if a special bipartisan committee established in last summer’s debt deal failed to come up with a more palatable way to curb red ink.

The super committee disbanded in failure in November, triggering the sequester if Congress does not agree to set it aside.

Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said national security would be harmed if the Pentagon lost $55 billion in funding in January. He told colleagues the House framework represented at attempt to deal with a looming problem through serious governing and would put only a small dent in the growth of rapidly expanding social programs.

“If we can’t have a civil debate about how to control the growth of spending around here, then we’ll never get this under control,” he said.

The far-reaching Republican proposal would impose new caps on medical malpractice suits, require federal employees to contribute more for their pensions and require those claiming the child tax credit to submit a social security number.

It would also restrict eligibility for food stamps and reduce benefits that had been enhanced in the stimulus bill. And it would slice billions from Medicaid.

Democrats want to use new revenues from closing tax loopholes and increased taxes on the wealthy, combined with some budget reductions, to replace the deeper automatic cuts.

House Democrats had proposed an alternative proposal to turn off the automatic cuts, known on Capitol Hill as the “sequester,” in part by ending subsidies for oil and gas companies and by imposing the so-called Buffett Rule, which would require those making at least $1 million a year to pay a minimum effective tax rate.

Republicans declined to allow a floor vote on the Democratic measure.

Senate Democrats laid down a marker this week — saying clearly for the first time that they are willing to allow the Department of Defense to absorb the deep cuts if Republicans are unwilling to compromise on the tax issue.

“The answer is very simple to our Republican colleagues who want to help with defense: revenues,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) “And just as there are painful cuts on the military side, there are painful cuts on the domestic side. And the way to deal with sequestration is put revenues on the table.”

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.


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