J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by fellow GOP leaders, meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 5, 2013, following a Republican strategy session. From left are, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., and Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
WASHINGTON — Republicans controlling the House are moving to take the roughest edges off across-the-board spending cuts that are just starting to take effect.
Even as the military would bear a $43 billion cut over just seven months, the new GOP measure released Monday would give the Pentagon much-needed funding for readiness. It would also ease the pain felt by critical agencies like the FBI and the Border Patrol.
The effort is part of a huge spending measure released Monday that would fund day-to-day federal operations through September — and head off a potential government shutdown later this month.
"Our goal is to cut spending, not to shut the government down," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The measure would leave in place automatic cuts of 5 percent to domestic agencies and 7.8 percent to the Pentagon ordered Friday by President Barack Obama after months of battling with Republicans over the budget. But the House Republicans' legislation would award the Defense Department its detailed 2013 budget while other agencies would be frozen in place at 2012 levels.
The unprecedented across-the-board cuts would then be applied to the day-to-day budgets of every federal agency except Veterans Affairs, which is exempt from them.
The GOP funding measure is set to advance through the House on Thursday in hopes of preventing a government shutdown when a six-month spending bill passed last September runs out March 27. The latest measure blends updated 2013 budget measures for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments — giving much-sought increases for military operations and maintenance efforts and veterans' health programs — but puts most the rest of the government on autopilot.
Senate Democrats want to add more detailed budgets for domestic Cabinet agencies but it will take GOP help to do so. The House measure also denies money sought by Obama and his Democratic allies to implement the signature 2010 laws overhauling the health care system and financial regulation.
After accounting for the across-the-board cuts, domestic agencies would face cuts exceeding 5 percent when compared with last year. But Republicans carved out a host of exemptions seeking to protect especially important functions, such as federal prisons and firefighting efforts in the West, as well as new funding for embassy security and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The FBI and the Border Patrol would be able to maintain current staffing levels and would not have to furlough employees.
The legislation would provide about $2 billion more than the current level to beef up security at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions worldwide. Last September, a terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
A project to repair the iconic Capitol Dome could stay on track and NASA would be protected from the harshest effects of the automatic cuts, known in Washington-speak as a sequester.
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The across-the-board cuts would carve $85 billion in spending from the government's $3.6 trillion budget for this year, concentrating the cuts in the approximately $1 trillion allocated to the day-to-day agency operating budgets set by Congress each year. Those so-called discretionary accounts received big boosts in the first two years of Obama's presidency, when Democrats controlled Congress, but have borne the brunt of the cuts approved as Obama and Republicans have grappled over the budget.
Both Democrats and Republicans for months have warned the cuts are draconian and would slow the growth of the economy, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, for instance, says they would slow the economy by 0.6 percent and cost about 750,000 jobs.