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White House, Democrats unload on GOP spending cuts scenarios

House Republicans haven't unveiled appropriations bills yet, but have previewed intentions to roll back spending

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., participates in House Democrats’ press conference following their caucus meeting in the Capitol on Jan. 10.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., participates in House Democrats’ press conference following their caucus meeting in the Capitol on Jan. 10. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden and House Democrats launched separate attacks on potential House Republican-proposed spending cuts Monday, highlighting that the reductions could harm public safety and border security while restricting access to child care, college, rental assistance and nutrition programs, among other impacts.

House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., released letters from agency heads laying out the effects of potential cuts Monday morning, and the administration released a memo laying out the potential public safety impacts of the cuts — the first in a series over the course of this week.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., promised holdouts during his bid for the gavel that the chamber would write its appropriations bills at the fiscal 2022 topline level, which would slash more than $130 billion from funding enacted for the current fiscal year.

That represents a roughly 8 percent cut from comparable fiscal 2023 levels; if defense and veterans medical care funds were exempt from cuts, reductions to all other nondefense programs could top 22 percent. DeLauro said in her release that under a worst-case scenario, spending for “essential programs” could be cut by 30 percent or more.

Potential outcomes DeLauro described from responses she received back from agencies include 80,000 people losing the Pell Grants they need to attend college; 200,000 children losing access to preschool under the Head Start program; 100,000 children not getting the daycare services their parents need; and 1.2 million women, infants and children losing food assistance under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

Such cuts “would cause irreparable damage to our communities by gutting the programs every single American relies on,” DeLauro said in a statement. “Those proposals are unrealistic, unsustainable, and unconscionable.” 

‘Scrub every penny’

House Republicans are just beginning to look at how they’re going to write fiscal 2024 spending bills to the level envisioned by McCarthy and conservatives in the conference, including members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, has instructed her subcommittee chairs to look closely at their bills for areas to cut, according to State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart. However, the dozen subcommittee “cardinals” have not yet been given their targets to cut to since the overall discretionary topline figure has not yet been established, he said. 

“The instruction from Kay Granger has been, in essence, to scrub every penny, every department, every agency, dollar, every penny spent, to try to find savings, to try to figure out where we can cut spending in a responsible way,” Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said Monday.

Diaz-Balart said the increase in nondefense discretionary spending in recent years has been “insane,” and said he believes appropriators can get nondefense discretionary spending down to fiscal 2022 levels. On the other hand, he pointed out, many Republicans want to increase defense funding.

In addition, there are built-in increases for veterans health care programs that were appropriated in advance for fiscal 2024, not counting new mandatory funds the White House wants to set aside for the veterans toxic exposure benefits fund enacted last year.

The combined effect of defense and veterans health-related exemptions from cuts combined with other built-in increases could, by some estimates, require roughly 30 percent reductions elsewhere in the budget. And based on the Freedom Caucus response to White House attacks Monday, border security funding may also be spared, which would mean even more pain spread to other accounts.

McCarthy’s decision to roll back appropriated spending to last year’s levels came in large part out of negotiations with Freedom Caucus members in January. Members of that group earlier this month issued an updated set of asks in conjunction with the pending debt limit talks, in which they said they’d cap appropriations for a decade at fiscal 2022 levels, with a 1 percent annual increase.

In the first of a series of daily memos the White House plans to release this week while House Republicans are at their retreat in Orlando, Fla., the administration took aim Monday at the Freedom Caucus-endorsed plan’s impact on public safety programs.

With the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment still in focus, the fact sheet said such cuts could result in the loss of rail safety inspectors. Also facing cuts would be air traffic controllers, as well as FBI and local law enforcement — which the administration said would “defund the police.”

‘Woke and weaponized’

The White House said more than 2,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and officer positions could be cut, which would “severely undermine our ability to secure the border and combat drug trafficking.” A House Freedom Caucus tweet took issue with that characterization, suggesting that border security cuts were not on the table.

“We’re going after the wasteful, woke and weaponized federal bureaucracy and the spending that fuels it,” the group said. “Not border security.”

Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, R-Pa., added in a tweet of his own that Biden criticism related to border security “is like a pyromanic suddenly taking interest in fire prevention.”

Earlier Monday, DeLauro posted responses from most agency heads to letters she sent them in January — delayed well beyond the Feb. 3 initial deadline she laid out — asking for information on how the proposed cuts would affect their agencies. 

The responses DeLauro received were cited in the White House’s memo Monday, including the loss of rail safety, air traffic control and law enforcement jobs, including 11,000 at the FBI. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could be faced with a hiring freeze leaving hundreds of positions open.

Other results of potential GOP cuts that the letters outlined include 640,000 families losing access to rental assistance and 430,000 low-income families being evicted from Section 8 housing. Community health programs could face cuts that could cut off access for 2 million individuals, and tens of thousands of people could lose access to opioid use disorder treatment, DeLauro said. 

A White House official said additional fact sheets expected this week will highlight potential cuts to health care and energy-related programs, incentives for domestic manufacturing, Medicare and national security.

DeLauro said she looked forward to addressing the effects of spending cuts in hearings with agency officials in coming weeks. 

“Continued Republican calls for cuts of this magnitude — both secret proposals from Republican leadership and public demands from extremists in the party — would be absolutely detrimental to all Americans, many of whom have not seen a pay raise in years and are struggling to pay their bills,” DeLauro said.

Lindsey McPherson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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