Today, the House approved legislation that would cut $315 billion from social programs in 2013. The legislation is House Republicans’ response to the $72 billion in cuts that are slated to go into effect in January 2013 under the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011. That law tasked a special committee with reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion – and upon its failure, triggered automatic cuts of the same amount spread out over the next ten years, split evenly between domestic and defense programs.
However, the GOP plan goes well beyond the cuts required by the BCA. It restores the $72 billion that would be cut in 2013 and then identifies $315 in new cuts elsewhere in the budget. A primary target for these new cuts is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps), which would see a $38.5 billion reduction from tightening eligibility rules and returning benefits to pre-2009 levels. The bill also repeals the Social Services Block Grant, which is used to fund a wide variety of social support and human services programs around the country, including some programs that provide mental health services. Additional savings would come from requiring federal workers to pay more for their defined benefit pensions and capping damages and limiting attorney fees in medical malpractice lawsuits.
The bill also repeals portions of the Affordable Care Act, including the Prevention and Public Health Fund, federal funding for the development of State Health Insurance Exchanges, and the Maintenance of Effort provisions that prevent states from restricting Medicaid eligibility below 2010 levels.
Democrats have stated that they would also like to see the automatic cuts repealed – yet, they favor what they call a “balanced approach” that combines spending cuts with revenue-generating provisions such as raising taxes on high-income earners or closing corporate tax loopholes. The House Republican plan is essentially dead on arrival in the Senate. Yet, by staking out a position now that achieves far more in savings than what is necessary to replace the 2013 automatic cuts, this bill stakes out fiscal conservatives’ ground for the eventual negotiations that will occur with Senate Democrats.