Unable to stop the sequester’s job-killing spending cuts, President Barack Obama now says he wants to move past the endless wars of budget attrition. Though he still wants a long-term deficit deal, he said last week, it is time to turn to immigration, gun control, universal preschool, a higher minimum wage and voting reform.
But Republicans are not going to allow that pivot. Most are unalterably opposed to all of those initiatives, and want to keep their focus on cutting domestic programs and fighting off tax increases. At a time when Republicans are divided on many social issues, the budget wars are one of the few things that unite them.
A variety of insidious new budget proposals are now emerging from the House. On Wednesday, by a 267-151 vote, the House approved a stopgap spending resolution to keep the government running for the last half of the fiscal year, replacing the one that expires March 27.
Such “continuing resolutions,” which fund the government at the previous year’s level, demonstrate Congress’ inability to do its most basic job of making spending decisions. But this new resolution is worse because it also includes the sequester’s brutal cuts — except in a few crucial areas that are Republican priorities.
The House bill would give the Pentagon a brand-new budget, allowing it to make the cuts in low-priority areas, preventing the reductions in military readiness that generals have been warning about. It prevents staffing cuts in the Border Patrol, and adds money for Israel and embassy security. It makes health care reform a target for special cuts, and even specifies that no money is to be spent on the community group known as ACORN, though that group has not existed since 2010.
But it allows no flexibility or extra money to prevent cuts to programs like unemployment benefits, nutrition aid, housing assistance and education grants. Republicans do not care about those programs and left the sequester cuts in place for them. Simple fairness demands that Senate Democrats call for equal flexibility and money for the most important domestic programs in their version of the bill, as Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the new Appropriations Committee chairwoman, has vowed to do. (Obama already said that he would not use the threat of a government shutdown to fight the sequester cuts, rejecting the extortionate tactics Republicans regularly use.)
The Republicans have made it clear that the spending fight will never cease. They haven’t promised not to abuse the next debt-ceiling increase, necessary in the next few months, to get further cuts. And Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, will soon unveil his caucus’s 2014 budget, which will start to make good on the party’s ruinous plan to balance the budget in 10 years. To do so, he is reviving his discredited proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program, and considered making it worse by cutting benefits for people who are now 56 and younger; an earlier plan cut benefits for those 55 and below.
Republicans are hoping to wear down their opposition with these eternal battles. But their proposals are too dangerous to allow that to happen.
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