Later this week the House is scheduled to take up legislation that is aimed to shield defense spending from the automatic sequestration cuts that are scheduled to go into effect as part of the August Debt Limit agreement after the so-called Super Committee was unable to reach a deal last November.
All in all six Committees (Agriculture, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform and Ways and Means) are charged with producing savings of $300 billion over a 10 year budget window. While some of the cuts come from mandatory programs (such as Medicare and farm subsidies), most of the savings come from appropriations, or discretionary spending. Other savings come from changes in law that are not likely to happen, such as enacting medical liability laws and placing caps on malpractice awards.
Major savings are slated to come from the Health Care programs enacted into law under Obama as well as from the newly established Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cuts from food stamps, Medicaid and the premium subsidies for families enrolled in Obama’s health care plan total more than $108 billion - equal to over a third of the package. While voting to cut programs, such as food stamps, farm subsidies, federal retiree benefits and Medicaid might seem perilous during an election year, especially when the bill will face a super-majority hurdle in the Senate and a Presidential veto, House Republicans seem determined to push the bill through this week.
Once again, the stage is set for fireworks in the House. Beneath the rhetoric and posturing, both parties will be trying to frame the issue to their advantage. Republicans will argue a moral duty to reduce the deficit while protecting defense spending without raising taxes. Democrats will try to frame the issue as one of further reducing the safety net programs in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.
At the end of the day, the only tangible outcome from the debate and votes on the reconciliation bill may be additional fodder for campaign managers to use during the upcoming election campaign.