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A dark cloud passes over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Many lawmakers fear that Congress' already low approval rating will sink even further after the failure of the supercommittee.
The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a GOP proposal that saves the defense budget from automatic cuts. Instead, the cuts will come from social programs for poor Americans.
Remember the “supercommittee”? When that bipartisan group failed to come up with an agreement to cut the federal deficit, it triggered automatic cuts divided equally between defense and domestic programs.
Speaking on the House floor, Republican Congressman Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita said half this year’s budget savings have come from the military. The head of the House Armed Services Committee described the consequences of more than half a trillion dollars in defense cuts over the next decade: 200,000 troops taken out of the Army and the Marines, bringing our force level down below pre-9/11 levels.
He said the United States' ability to respond "to contingencies in North Korea and Iran and other places, hot spots around the world, will be put in jeopardy."
McKeon said the mandated cuts known as “sequestration” would shrink the nation’s fleet of ships to pre-World War I levels, and would require two more rounds of base closings. "That’s why Secretary Panetta has said it’s not shooting ourselves in our foot with sequestration, it’s shooting ourselves in the head."
Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of Los Angeles says he’s concerned about military budget reductions, too, "but I don’t think we ought to resolve it by reducing services for people who have nowhere else to go and for whom it may well be a matter of life and death."
The measure the House approved, largely along party lines, rolls back benefits and tightens eligibility for food stamps.
It eliminates federal money to states for "Meals on Wheels" and child abuse prevention... and stops the expansion of health care to poor people included in the Affordable Care Act.
Waxman says the GOP is "looking at ways that would make it harder for the states to provide the services for the most vulnerable people that look to Medicaid for their health care needs."
Democrats prefer offsetting cuts by increasing taxes for the wealthy. Waxman calls the measure a “fairly mean way” to accomplish Republican goals.
Waxman also accuses his GOP colleagues of going back on a deal: if the supercommittee failed, automatic cuts were supposed to be split between defense and domestic spending. "What they’re trying to come up with," he says, "is something that is very different from what they agreed to in the negotiations with the President, and that almost all Republicans voted for."
The House vote is largely symbolic. It’s unlikely to pass the Democratic-led Senate, and the President has threatened a veto. That would mean the automatic $1 trillion (or more) in cuts to defense and domestic programs over the next decade are scheduled to kick in October 1.