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House vote could undo December budget cuts

  • Article by: JONATHAN WEISMAN
  • New York Times
  • February 10, 2014 - 10:38 PM

– The House is likely to vote Wednesday to extend the government’s borrowing authority into 2015 in exchange for reversing a cut to the pensions of working-age military veterans that Congress approved just two months ago to try to trim the budget deficit.

The plan, presented to House Republicans on Monday evening by their leaders, represents a dramatic reversal for the House after three years of using the debt ceiling to extract major spending cuts and conservative policy changes. In this instance, the debt ceiling deadline — looming at the end of this month — will be used to reverse the only difficult spending cut included in a budget and deficit-reduction deal reached in December.

For its part, the Senate voted Monday evening to take up a bill that reverses the same spending cut.

“What came out of a very small budget deal was the notion that there are budgetary trade-offs, and policymakers were at least confronting them in very small steps going forward,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Now, “before the ink is even dry, we’re seeing the repeal of the most serious policy in that budget deal.”

The moves on both sides of the Capitol starkly illustrate how difficult it will be to wring savings from automatic government programs — like pension and health care “entitlements” — which are swelling with an aging population but remain politically untouchable. The cut to veterans’ pensions, embraced by Pentagon officials alarmed by the swelling costs of military benefits, sliced 1 percentage point from the annual cost-of-living adjustment for working-age veterans, with a one-time increase at retirement age to make up for lost ground.

It was to save nearly $7 billion over the next decade and was hailed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the deal’s chief Republican negotiator and chairman of the House Budget Committee, as a step toward reining in federal programs.

But the cut received bipartisan condemnation even before the budget passed Congress. National veterans’ organizations denounced it, and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, awarded authorship of the measure’s repeal to Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

House Republican leaders argued that the measure they were championing would not add to the deficit. That is because it would extend to 2024 a 2 percent cut to Medicare health care providers that already is in effect until 2023. Budget hawks said that amounted to trading new spending now for the promise of cuts far in the future. Conservative groups denounced the proposal Monday.

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