WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are far less ambitious this week in their demands for spending cuts to erase new debt issued to pay the government's bills than they were during a budget battle two years ago.
The list of cuts under consideration now tallies up to a fraction of the almost $1 trillion in additional borrowing that would be permitted under a GOP proposal for enabling the government to pay its bills through December of next year.
Two years ago, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, insisted on spending cuts totaling $2.1 trillion over a decade as the price to meet President Barack Obama's demand for a like-sized increase in the government's borrowing cap, also known as the debt ceiling.
Those cuts involved tighter "caps" on agency operating budgets as well as the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration triggered by the failure of a deficit "supercommittee" to reach a deal.
The problem now is that there isn't a roster of big, politically palatable cuts ready to go. Instead, Republicans have put together a grab bag of smaller savings ideas, like higher pension contributions for federal workers, higher premiums for upper-income Medicare beneficiaries, caps on medical malpractice verdicts and reduced payments to hospitals that treat more poor people than average.
A leading set of proposals comes from a House GOP leadership office and was circulating on Washington's K Street lobbying corridor on Monday. It includes a plan to increase pension contributions of federal civilian workers by up to 5 percentage points and lowering the federal match accordingly, which could help defray the deficit by up to $84 billion over a decade. Another, to block immigrants in the country illegally from claiming the child tax credit would save just $7 billion over the same period. Eliminating the Social Services Block Grant, a flexible funding stream for states to help with day care, Meals on Wheels, and drug treatment facilities, would save less than $2 billion a year.