These across-the-board cuts would pare $85 billion from this year's budget after being delayed from Jan. 1 until March 1 and reduced by $24 billion by the recently enacted tax bill. Defense hawks are particularly upset, saying the Pentagon cuts would devastate military readiness and cause havoc in defense contracting. The cuts, called a sequester in Washington-speak, were never intended to take effect but were instead aimed at driving the two sides to a large budget bargain in order to avoid them.
But Republicans and Obama now appear on a collision course over how to replace the across-the-board cuts. Obama and his Democratic allies insist that additional revenues be part of the solution; Republicans say that further tax increases are off the table after the 10-year, $600 billion-plus increase in taxes on wealthier earners forced upon Republicans by Obama earlier this month.
"We feel by moving the issue of raising the debt ceiling behind the sequestration . . . that we re-order things in a way that Democrats will have to work with," said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. "The cuts are the kind of cuts we want, they're just not in the places we want, but they're also not in the places that the Democrats want. So hopefully they'll be forced to come to the table and work with us on a bipartisan basis to put them where they need to be, where it has the less pain."
According to the latest calculations, which account for the recent reduction of this year's sequester from $109 billion to $85 billion, the Pentagon now faces a 7.3 percentage point across-the-board cut, while domestic agency budgets would absorb a 5.1 percent cut. The calculations are not official but were released Tuesday by Richard Kogan, a respected budget expert with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank.
GOP leaders have also promised conservatives that the House will debate a budget blueprint that projects a balanced federal budget within a decade. For the past two years, the fiscal plans of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have contained strict budget cuts but have never projected balance.
In a slap at the Senate, which hasn't debated a budget since 2009, the House debt measure would withhold the pay for either House or Senate members if the chamber in which they serve fails to pass a budget plan. This "no budget, no pay" idea had previously been regarded mostly as a gimmick and had been earlier dismissed by many lawmakers as unconstitutional since it seems to run counter to a provision in the Constitution that says Congress can't change its pay until an election has passed.
To address that problem, the measure would deny pay until Jan. 3, 2015, if either chamber failed to pass a budget.
Schumer said Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press" that Democrats are likely to adopt a budget this year. Under congressional rules, a joint House-Senate budget resolution is a nonbinding measure that sets forth an outline for follow-up legislation but doesn't accomplish any cuts by itself.