A proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to replace sequester budget cuts slid through the House Thursday after a partisan debate which for Democrats focused on leaving food stamp programs intact and for Republicans centered on choosing national security over slush fund waste. The measure passed 218 to 199 after five hours of debate.
The bill would reduce entitlement programs, redundancies, and loopholes within mandatory spending items in the Federal budget by over $240 billion over the next decade in order to prevent most of a tranche of cuts to the Defense Department that would take effect at the start of 2013 under last year’s Budget Control Act. If the cuts are not avoided, they will cut Defense spending by 10 percent across the board over the next decade, with additional eight-percent cuts to domestic programs over the same period.
Replacement savings in the bill included food stamp aid to qualifying households, preventing illegal immigrants from taking advantage of child tax credits by requiring a social security number, and implementing moderate limitations in growth on programs like Medicaid.
Ryan emphasized that the bill was targeting “slush funds” and programs that rarely saw Congressional oversight. The 1.8 million recipients of food stamps who would lose that benefit, according to the Congressional Budget Office, were the ones, he said, who never merited it in the first place.
“If you’re eligible for food stamps today, you’ll be eligible for food stamps tomorrow under this bill,” he said. “This is where our taxpayer funds are going. What we’re saying is government spending on these programs should go to the people who are intended, not to the people who are not eligible, and not intended.”
Democrats had been expected to introduce an amendment, authored by Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, which would find savings and revenue by raising taxes on the wealthy and a slate on other programs, but they were not allowed to introduce the amendment, on the grounds that it violated the rules of the house by adding net tax revenue.
Ryan said the ratio of revenue increase to spending cuts was three-to-one under the Democratic proposal, and, would result in a net increase of government spending as well as taxes.
“For the first time in over a decade, we’re trying to get a handle on that out of control portion of spending,” said Rep. Bob Woodall (R-Ga.) “My idea of deficit reduction is we reduce spending. My colleague’s idea of deficit reduction is that we spend $40 billion above and beyond over the next ten years.”
Van Hollen insisted his proposal provided a better balance than the Republican solution.
“Unfortunately, the Republican approach to the budget and now to this sequester issue takes this lopsided approach,” he said. “If you say you’re not going to ask companies that have these tax loopholes to pay a little bit more, what are you going to do? Your budget has to whack everyone else.”
For Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the question was simple: taxes versus elimination of spending waste. “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle say the nation can tax itself into economic growth, can tax itself into economic prosperity,” he said. “The American people know we can do better.”
Meanwhile, the cuts most attacked by Democrats, Ryan said, were in reality only limits on growth over the next decade. “Medicaid is projected to grow 125 percent over the next decade. Under this bill it will grow 123 percent,” he said. “Only in Washington is this considered Draconian cuts.”
Prior to the bill’s passage after a day of floor debate, the Democrats offered one last amendment to stay its progress: a measure that would eliminate pensions for members of Congress who went on to become lobbyists making over $1 million per year. After short debate the measure was easily defeated.
The sequester replacement bill will now receive a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is widely expected to fail.
However, Sen. John McCain told Human Events earlier this week that he is pushing for support of the measure, and was meeting with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) to coordinate proposals.
“We’re working on it,” he said. “I’m not blocking anything; I’ll try anything” to avert sequestration.