House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) voted against the… (Mark Wilson, Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House approved a plan for deep spending cuts in food stamps, Meals on Wheels and other domestic programs — while sparing the Pentagon — in a vote that showcased the party's election-year priorities.
The legislation to cut $240 billion over a decade is expected to stall in the Senate, where Democrats have the majority, but the exercise Thursday allowed the GOP to contrast its agenda with President Obama's efforts to reduce the deficit.
Democrats decried the bill as "literally taking food out of the mouth of babies," in the words ofRep. Nancy Pelosi(D-San Francisco), the House minority leader. No Democrats voted for the measure, which was approved along party lines, 218 to 199.
In calling the vote, House Speaker John A. Boehner(R-Ohio) reneged on the budget deal Congress struck with the White House last summer. That agreement called for $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, slicing equally across defense and other accounts.
Neither side was satisfied with the deal. Both parties in Congress, as well as the White House, want to avoid the scenario of mandatory reductions scheduled to begin Jan. 2. Defense SecretaryLeon E. Panettahas warned that the cuts to the military would be devastating.
Republicans want to shift the burden from defense to domestic programs, while Democrats want new taxes to bolster revenue.
In many ways, the vote was a repeat of the arguments that stalemated Washington for 18 months and thwarted a deficit-reduction plan to replace the across-the-board cuts. The debate on the House floor also offered a prelude to the showdown in the months ahead as both parties seek to sway voters to their side.
"We're hearing lots of comments about how this hurts people, how this hurts the poor," said Rep. Paul D. Ryan(R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, who said the rising number of Americans in poverty shows that federal aid programs are not effective. "Let's go back to the idea of an American opportunity society — with a safety net that doesn't keep people in poverty, but gets them out of poverty."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the budget committee, said his party also wanted to avoid the forced cuts, but not that way. "Again, the question is how?" he said. "The Republican approach once again asks nothing of people who are doing so well in this country — making over $1 million a year. It hits everyone else."
The Democratic proposal, which did not come to a vote, would tax oil companies and impose a minimum rate on taxpayers earning more than $1 million a year.
Under the Republican plan, changes to food stamps would cut 300,000 children from the free school lunch program, although children could still buy meals at reduced costs.
Money sent to the states to run child-care programs, foster care services, Meals on Wheels for seniors and other programs that serve 23 million Americans would be eliminated.
Federal workers — whose pay has been frozen for two years — would be required to contribute an additional 5 percentage points to their retirement accounts.