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Another Window Into Republican Priorities

The Republican proposal to alter last summer’s budget deal will come up for a vote on Thursday. It will almost surely pass and then, almost as surely, go nowhere in the Senate. But it’s yet another revealing window into Republican priorities.

As you may recall, the agreement to raise the debt ceiling in 2011 came with a promise to cut future spending. And just to make sure Congress or the President didn’t go back on that promise, both sides agreed to a “sequester”: If Democrats and Republicans couldn’t subsequently agree upon a set of spending cuts and revenue enhancements, then automatic spending cuts would take place. Negotiations eventually broke down because, as usual, Republicans refused to contemplate new revenue. And now the sequester, with its spending cuts, is set to take effect in January, 2013.

Nobody is very excited about this. Republicans are particularly worried about the sequester’s 10 percent cut to defense spending and so, after some deep introspection, they’ve decided to rethink their opposition to new taxes and agree to a more sensible deficit reduction package that includes new revenue.

Ha! Just kidding! The Republicans haven’t budged on taxes. Instead, they’re proposing to replace the defense cuts with—you guessed it—more cuts to domestic spending. Naturally, these reductions would hit low-income Americans the hardest. To get a sense of what these cuts would entail, here’s a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of just one of the proposals – a reduction for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:

The SNAP cuts would reduce or eliminate benefits for all SNAP households, including the poorest, the very old, and the disabled. Two million people, disproportionately people in low-income working families and the elderly, would lose SNAP benefits entirely. The other 44 million individuals receiving SNAP assistance would see their benefits cut. Every family of four receiving SNAP assistance would face a benefit cut of $57 a month this September.
The legislation also would cut federal funding by 72 percent for the SNAP employment and training program — which helps jobless SNAP recipients find work — thereby making it harder for these people to obtain jobs. In addition, the SNAP cuts in the House package would cause 200,000 low-income children to lose free school meals, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, because of interactions between SNAP and the school lunch program.

Keep in mind that the sequester already slashes domestic discretionary spending. The new Republican proposal restores a tiny bit of that, for one year. But it's far less than the Republican proposal would take away from programs that benefit low- and middle-income Americans. For those of you who want the wonky details, here's Richard Kogan, from the Center on Budget, via e-mail:

The priorities embodied by this bill are clear. Relative to existing law – which includes the scheduled ‘sequestration’ or automatic cuts in non-entitlement funding for the coming year – we see two things. First, defense funding comes out $66 billion ahead in the coming year. Second, domestic programs come out far behind: the permanent cuts in Medicaid and other health insurance benefits, food stamps, child credits, state-run social service programs for the poor and disabled, and other programs – amounting to more than $300 billion over ten years, of which $128 billion comes just from programs assisting low-income families – far surpass the temporary restoration of $10 billion or one-quarter of the scheduled sequestration from non-defense discretionary appropriations for just one year.

Curiously, the Republican proposal would allow the sequester’s planned reduction in Medicare reimbursements take effect. I say “curiously” because the Republicans have spent an awful lot of time over the last three years attacking Democrats for Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act. Of course, Republicans have simultaneously been proposing larger, and cruder cuts to Medicare as part of the the Paul Ryan budget proposals.

In that sense, their willingness to keep the sequester’s Medicare cuts is entirely consistent with their past behavior. For Republicans, protecting senior citizens is a campaign priority but not a governing one.

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