House Republicans pass bill cutting domestic programs

WASHINGTON -- Turning their budget knife to domestic programs to protect the Pentagon from deep cuts, House Republicans on Thursday approved legislation cutting food stamps, benefits for federal workers and social-services programs like day care for children and Meals on Wheels for the elderly.

President Barack Obama's Wall Street reform law would be rewritten under the legislation, passed on a 218-199 vote, while his overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system would also be cut. The legislation would deny illegal immigrants child tax credits, while new curbs on medical malpractice lawsuits are credited with driving down Medicare and Medicaid costs.

The bill, passed after a passionate, sometimes hyperbolic debate, would spare the military from a $55 billion, 10 percent automatic budget cut next year because of the failure of last year's deficit-reduction "supercommittee" to strike a deal. It also would protect domestic agencies from an 8 percent cut to their operating budgets next year, but would leave in place a 2 percent cut in payments to Medicare providers.

The legislation is a dead letter in the Senate, however, where Democratic leaders insist on keeping the automatic cuts in place as leverage to try to force Republicans to agree to a mixture of tax increases and spending cuts.

Defense hawks warn that the automatic cuts would mean a 200,000 troop cut, military base closings and a significantly smaller Navy and Air Force.

There's common agreement that the automatic cuts need to be reversed, but Democrats and Republicans remain at war over the best way to do that.

"Today we are having a debate over whether to eliminate wasteful, duplicative spending and unnecessary, flawed federal programs" or to let automatic cuts "disarm our military, disrupt their operational capabilities and shrink America's fighting force," said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.

Democrats countered that the GOP plan, which swaps more than $300 billion in cuts over the coming decade to allow $78 billion in spending next year, unfairly targets the poor but keeps tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

"It's shifting all of the costs onto the most vulnerable people that don't have strong enough lobbyists ... and I think it's a terrible wrong," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.

The replacement cuts include blocking illegal immigrants from claiming refundable tax credits of up to $1,000 a child, cutting almost 2 million people off food stamps and denying school lunches to 280,000 children.

Sixteen Republicans opposed the measure. No Democrats voted for it.

This report contains material from Bloomberg News.