House GOP prepares to cut federal programs in upcoming budget showdown
WASHINGTON – Hard-right House Republicans are preparing a plan to gut the nation’s foreign aid budget and make deep cuts to health care, food aid and housing programs for poor Americans in their quest to balance the federal budget as the party struggles to rally around a plan that will deliver on their promise to cut spending.
Republicans are poised this week to denounce President Joe Biden’s upcoming budget as bloated and misguided, and have said they will propose their own next month. But unifying his convoluted conference around a list of deep cuts to popular programs will be the biggest test yet for Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who will need to win support from Republicans in competitive districts and conservative hardliners to muster the 218 votes that are necessary to win the adoption of a budget plan.
Privately, even some top party officials have questioned how Republicans will meet their spending targets while keeping their members in line.
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The most conservative lawmakers in his conference — emboldened by their four-day battle with McCarthy, a California Republican, earlier this year during his election as speaker — are pursuing cuts they admit could cause political pain and pushback among their colleagues.
“There will be some gnashing of teeth,” said Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, an arch-conservative member of the House Budget Committee, as the Republican majority works to craft its spending plan. “It will not be a pretty process. But that’s the way it has to be.”
The creepiness is due in part to a paradigm shift among GOP lawmakers. After decades of unsuccessful efforts to cut the huge costs of Social Security and Medicare, Republicans have vowed not to touch the biggest entitlement programs, whose spending grows automatically and is on an unsustainable trajectory as more Americans reach retirement age. Along with their promise not to raise taxes, that leaves the GOP considering a slash-and-burn approach to a number of federal programs and agencies whose budgets are controlled by Congress.
As they meet privately to develop their plan, Republicans say they are relying heavily on a budget outline developed by Russell T. Vought, the former Trump administration budget director who now heads the far-right Center for Renewing America.
In an interview, Vought said it made strategic sense to shift away from politically impregnable Social Security and Medicare and instead target a number of programs that conservatives have criticized for years.
“We’re at a total strategic impasse on the right, and our fiscal warriors and strategists have failed miserably in the sense that they’re pointing to any cuts we’ve had successfully since 1997,” Vought said in an interview. “I actually think that’s the worst part of federal spending because it’s the bureaucracy.
“I’m not saying you can balance on discretion alone,” he said, referring to the portion of the federal budget controlled by Congress. “But a work-requirement food stamp program is a much easier sell than premium assistance,” he added, referring to a plan to make Medicare beneficiaries bear more of their costs.
The strategy proposed by Vought, who has become something of an intellectual and tactical guru for many of the hardliners in the Republican Conference of Representatives, would impose deep spending cuts on what he called the “awakened and armed government.”
The proposal includes a 45% cut to foreign aid; adding work requirements for food stamp and Medicaid recipients; a 43% cut to housing programs, including phasing out the Section 8 program that pays a portion of the monthly rent costs for low-income people; cut the FBI’s counterintelligence budget by nearly half; and eliminating Obamacare expansions to Medicaid to save tens of billions of dollars.
Nearly 40 states have accepted federal funding for expansion under the Affordable Care Act, providing health care services to an estimated 12 million individuals living near or below the poverty line.
The proposal would also eliminate the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Pentagon, cut $3.4 billion in migration and refugee aid to the State Department and make Pell grants available only to students whose families cannot contribute money to a college education.
Adding work requirements to programs like food stamps is “a given,” according to Norman.
“We are $32 trillion in debt,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. “We need to get people back to work, get the economy going.”
A proposal with such cuts would draw criticism that Republicans are targeting the truly needy while avoiding touching the other benefit programs that serve many older Americans with other sources of income. But Republicans say the savings must be found.
If politicians can’t “change the trajectory of discretionary spending, then we’ll never have the courage to tackle the bigger problems,” said Rep. Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma, a first-term conservative Republican on the Budget Committee. “So we have to have the courage to go after the non-defense discretionary areas that everybody might not agree on.”
Democrats are eager for Republicans to roll out their spending plan, expecting it to provide powerful ammunition to show that the GOP intends to gut a number of federal programs Americans rely on across all incomes.
“Show us your plan” has become a rallying cry for Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, as he and his fellow Democrats have urged Republicans to release the budget cuts they want in return for raising the federal debt limit. later this year to avoid a federal default.
Biden has made a point of highlighting Vought and his budget proposal, emphasizing his ties to Trump and warning that the plan “could cause nearly 70 million people to lose services,” most of them “seniors, people with disabilities and children. “
Rep. Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, called Vought’s budget plan “a direct war on middle-class America.”
“If you say you’re going to eliminate the deficit by the end of the decade, but you say you’re not going to touch Social Security, you’re not going to touch Medicare, you’re not going to touch defense — that means you’re going to cut 100 % of all that is left, Boyle said. “So I welcome this debate. Math is on our side.”
Some Democrats are urging both parties to find a way to compromise, calling on Republicans to drop their threats to use the debt ceiling to force concessions and Democrats to recognize the need to rein in out-of-control spending.
“We’re never going to solve the problem by letting each party run in the opposite direction,” Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., said in an extended speech on the Senate floor last week, painting a bleak federal fiscal picture. “We will only be able to change course by coming together, embracing common sense and finding common ground.”
Under the current approach, House Republicans hope to merge the competing budget proposals that have previously emerged from various conservative factions into one plan that can clear the budget committee on its way to the House floor. Members of the panel, which recently gathered for a closed conference, thank Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, the new chairman of the Budget Committee, for being open to their ideas and sharing many of them.
“It is my strong opinion that it would be reckless and irresponsible to raise the debt limit without a sanity check on spending in Congress,” Arrington recently wrote in The Hill.
With the GOP holding such a narrow majority in the House, Republicans admitted it would be extremely difficult to secure the 218 votes needed to pass a budget filled with politically charged cuts.
“It’s scary,” said Norman, who said committee Republicans would nevertheless make clear what their budget-saving plans were when the moment came. “We will elaborate.”
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