WASHINGTON - Moving to protect the military from a crippling wave of budget cuts next year, a key House committee voted Monday to cut instead food aid, health care, and social services such as Meals on Wheels.
The measure would require federal employees to contribute more to their pensions, saving taxpayers more than $80 billion over the coming decade, while illegal immigrants would be denied tax refunds from the $1,000-per-child tax credit. There's no companion legislation moving in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the proposal doesn't stand a chance of making it to President Obama's desk for signature.
But the vote was a symbolic swipe at Obama in an election year focused on the economy.
The cuts approved by the Republican-controlled Budget Committee total more than $300 billion over the coming decade. The panel approved them on a party-line 21-9 vote; the full House is scheduled to vote Thursday.
The proposed reductions in the bill are but a fraction of those called for in the broader, nonbinding budget plan that passed the House in March. They are aimed less at taming trillion-dollar-plus deficits than preventing the Pentagon from absorbing a 10 percent, $55 billion automatic budget cut in January because last year's deficit "supercommittee" couldn't reach a deal.
The Obama administration and lawmakers in both parties warn the defense cuts would harm readiness and weapons procurement, and reduce troop levels.
One-fourth of the House GOP spending cuts come from programs directly benefiting the poor, such as Medicaid, food stamps, and the Social Services Block Grant.
Federal workers would have to contribute an additional 5 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, while people whose incomes rise after receiving coverage subsidies under the new health-care law would lose some or all of their benefits.
The automatic spending cuts, known as a "sequester," would strike domestic benefit programs as well, including a 2-percentage-point cut from Medicare payments to health-care providers and a $16 billion cut to farm subsidies. The GOP measure would leave those cuts in place.
The sequester required by the supercommittee's failure would abruptly wring about $110 billion in new spending from next year's budget. But the coming GOP measure is more gentle in the near term, cutting deficits this year and next by less than $20 billion - though the cuts would be more than $300 billion over a decade.
To GOP lawmakers, steps such as blocking states from gaming food-stamp eligibility rules to boost benefits are no-brainers.
"We propose to stop fraud in the food-stamp program by ensuring that individuals are actually eligible for the taxpayer benefits they receive," said Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.). "That shouldn't be a partisan issue. That ought to be a commonsense issue."
But Democrats say Republicans are unfairly targeting the poor and vulnerable. They believe that legislation to prevent the Pentagon cuts should include tax increases that strike wealthier people.