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House panel votes to avoid sequestration

May. 8, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By RICK MAZE   |   Comments
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman, said the new bill is an effort to modify last fall's budget agreement
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman, said the new bill is an effort to modify last fall's budget agreement (T.J. Kirkpatrick / Getty Images)

The House Budget Committee on Monday passed a plan that avoids across-the-board budget cuts in January and reverses $8 billion in defense cuts made last fall.

Additionally, the committee passed a second bill that would change the law governing the sequestration process for automatic budget cuts to fully protect veterans health and benefits programs, including administrative expenses.

This is a Republican effort, modifying a bipartisan agreement reached last fall, to restore reductions in the defense budget that were approved as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Passed by a 21-9 vote, the bill to avoid across-the-board cuts is likely to pass the House of Representatives before Memorial Day, but it may never be taken up in the Senate, at least not before the November elections.

However, the House Armed Services Committee is prepared to pass a defense policy bill on Wednesday that spends the additional $8 billion that would be available to the Defense Department if the alternative plan becomes law.

The House defense appropriations subcommittee is expected to pass its version of the 2013 defense funding bill on Tuesday, which also would spend the extra money.

At some point in the legislative process, the House and Senate will have to reconcile their differences on defense spending before a final defense budget is approved.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman, said the new bill is an effort to modify last fall's budget agreement, including the $917 billion in budget caps and an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Because agreement wasn't reached last year on those additional savings, across-the-board cuts are scheduled to start on Jan. 2: $109 billion in reductions in the 2013 budget, with about $55 billion coming from the defense budget.

"In our view, we shouldn't be taking more from hardworking Americans to fix Washington's mistakes. Instead, we should be solving the problem with structural reforms to our entitlement programs to make them strong and sustainable," Ryan said Monday.

While details on how to achieve the additional $1.2 trillion in savings are a partisan issue, Ryan said there is "strong bipartisan agreement that the sequester is bad policy and should be replaced."

The committee plan includes changes in federal civilian retired pay, reduced funding for supplemental food and nutrition programs, and cuts to grants for some programs for the unemployed.

Democrats have called this the "out of touch" budget, but are unable to muster enough votes in the House to stop it.

Ryan said there are two bills at the moment: the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act and the Sequester Replacement Act, which he hopes will be combined into a single measure before being taken up on the House floor.

The provisions specifically protecting veterans' spending were first proposed by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman, who said it will help to clarify and expand protections for veterans programs.

Last week, the White House's Office of Management and Budget announced that health care funds were not subject to across-the-board cuts. But that ruling left in doubt whether VA administrative funds might be subject to cuts, estimated to be 8 percent across the board for domestic programs and 10 percent for defense programs if sequestration occurs.

Miller said the budget committee bill "not only clarified the law but also exempts VA from administrative sequestration."

The language "should be met with bipartisan support by the House, Senate, and the president," he said.

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