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House Panel Votes on Sequester

Budget Committee Vote to Undo Automatic Spending Cuts Is Preview of Talking Points

The House Budget Committee on Monday approved a plan to replace across-the-board spending cuts slated to begin next year, laying down a marker in an election year for how Republicans would roll back the sequester.

The committee voted 21-9 along party lines to approve a reconciliation package that would replace most of the $109 billion in spending cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 2.

They would be replaced with $18.5 billion in savings in fiscal 2013 and $261.5 billion over 10 years, according to the GOP-led plan.

The House will likely pass the proposal Thursday on another largely party-line vote.

But the House floor is as far as the proposal is likely to travel, as Senate Democrats have refused take up the House GOP’s  plan that deviates from last year’s Budget Control Act, which set spending levels at $1.047 trillion.

Instead, Monday’s hearing previewed the parties’ talking points for the end-of-year battle over how — or whether — to undo the sequester, which critics on both sides of the aisle believe could be harmful to national security.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan said during the hearing that the sequester cuts, agreed to in a deal to increase the debt ceiling last year, are inflexible and arbitrary.

“Despite our differences, we again find ourselves in strong bipartisan agreement that the sequester is bad policy and ought to be replaced,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “That’s why this committee and this House passed a responsible budget and why we’re here today to meet our legal and moral obligation to lead.”

The sequester was put into effect under the terms of the Budget Control Act when the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to offer an alternative.

Republicans unanimously fell in line with the proposal, despite the fact that two GOP committee members — Reps. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) and Justin Amash (Mich.) — had previously voted against the House budget that set the process in motion.

In a Sunday e-newsletter, Huelskamp said he does not agree with a plan to roll back the sequester because it required cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

“I believe that we have to follow through on the planned cuts, as the cuts were a condition of raising the debt limit; taxpayers have the debt, but no cuts yet,” he wrote. There will more than likely be other Republicans of the same opinion, which could mean the GOP loses some of its Members’ votes on the House floor.

Democrats, on the other hand, wasted no time slamming the proposal. Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen said the GOP plan placed the burden squarely on low-income Americans rather than asking corporations and the wealthy to chip in. He said the plan is an extension of the GOP budget.

“That unfair and unbalanced approach focused only on cutting investments and services rather than closing tax loopholes,” the Maryland lawmaker said. “I know it makes people feel better to think these cuts don’t have real world consequences, but they do.”

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) jabbed the Republican party as draconian, extreme and “reverse Robin Hoods” who are out of touch with the mainstream.

The GOP proposal was panned in the Senate as well, where Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) said in a statement that until Republicans put revenue on the table as part of a deal to undo the sequester, they are on their own in the endeavor.

“Today Republicans continue their mad dash away from that deal in order to protect the wealthy from paying a penny more,” Murray said. “The reality is that the only way to avoid sequestration is to work with us on a balanced and fair approach that protects middle-class families. Until Republicans realize that, they will only be negotiating with themselves.” Murray was a co-chairwoman of the super committee.

Six committees approved the replacement cuts, all of which come from mandatory spending accounts. They would cut funding for things such as food stamps, the health care reform law and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, and they would convert aid to states and communities to block grants.

Democrats tried futilely for hours to propose alternative cuts, which would preserve children’s health care programs or the health care law and instead close loopholes for big oil companies and corporations that ship jobs overseas. But those proposals, which would have instructed the Rules Committee to make the proposals in order as amendments, were roundly voted down along party lines.

The reconciliation proposal adds another obstruction to the lame-duck
session bottleneck of expiring provisions, which includes the Bush-era tax cuts, a payroll tax cut and scores of tax extenders.

Until then, and during the election season, Republicans and Democrats will likely fire off messages that mirror Monday’s markup talking points.

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