GOP Sparks New Battle Over Agreed-Upon Defense Cuts

March 20, 2012 11:38 a.m.

House Republicans aren’t just reigniting battles over domestic spending and Medicare in their new budget resolution. They’re also instigating a war over military funding by seeking to replace automatic defense cuts both parties agreed to in the bipartisan debt limit deal to with major cuts to programs that benefit low- and middle-income Americans, such as food stamps and health care.

Democrats on the Hill and at the White House consider this a violation of the agreement they struck with Republicans last summer. The debt-limit legislation included a mechanism to force both parties to strike a balanced deal to reduce federal budget deficits: deep, automatic, across-the-board cuts to both domestic and national security programs. When the Super Committee failed in November, thanks largely to the GOP’s refusal to back significant new tax revenues, it armed that bomb — those cuts are now scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

Instead of reconsidering their anti-tax absolutism, Republicans want to go back on their end of the deal.Neither party wants to trigger the automatic cuts. But President Obama has emphatically said he won’t let Republicans force low- and middle-income Americans to shoulder the full burden of reducing the deficit. And Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) — a member of the Democratic leadership, high-ranking Budget Committee member and erstwhile co-chair of the Super Committee — affirmed on Tuesday afternoon that her party won’t let the GOP renege on its end of the deal without making some sacrifices.

“The whole point of including these bipartisan triggers in the Budget Control Act was to get both sides to the table willing to make some sacrifices,” Murray told TPM. “If Republicans are serious about replacing the automatic spending cuts then they are going to need to work with Democrats to find an equal amount of balanced deficit reduction that doesn’t simply increase the pain for the middle class.”

In a section called “Reprioritizing sequester savings to protect the nation’s security,” the GOP’s so-called “Path to Prosperity” calls for “[eliminating] these additional cuts in the defense budget by replacing them with other spending reductions.” It doesn’t specify where those spending cuts would come from but its instructions for key House committees offer a clear hint.

The budget directs six committees to replace the defense cuts by finding billions in spending reductions over the coming years — the committees have jurisdiction over areas of spending that Republicans have targeted for cuts. Agriculture (which covers farm subsidies), Energy & Commerce (which covers Medicaid and health programs), Ways & Means (which covers Medicare), Judiciary (which covers tort law), Oversight & Government Reform (which covers federal worker compensation) and Finances Services (which oversees banks).

The Armed Services Committee, which covers defense spending, is not in the mix. And although Ways & Means has jurisdiction over taxes, the budget is emphatic — as Republicans have been — that taxes not be part of the solution to deficit reduction.

“Ultimately, the committees will be responsible for determining how to meet their reconciliation instructions,” the budget reads. “But savings could be achieved in the areas of making pensions for federal workers more like those for workers in the private sector, repealing recent expansions of the federal role in financial services, saving money in health care, means-­testing entitlements, and reforming the medical liability system.”

At a background briefing for reporters Tuesday afternoon, senior administration officials speaking on the condition that they not be quoted, lamented the GOP’s unwillingness to abide by the deal they drafted, and which they necessitated by refusing to raise the debt limit in the first place.

In other words, Republicans aren’t content with having forced Dems to agree to $2.4 trillion in 10-year spending cuts last year — they now want to reassign a portion of those cuts, the one portion that’s politically difficult for them, to areas of the budget that already took are already tightly constrained and disproportionately help the poor and middle class.

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