July 28th, 2011
Robert Greenstein of the CBPP notes a very radical departure in both the Boehner debt bill and the absurd "Cut, Cap and Balance."
"For 26 years, all budget legislation that would trigger across-the-board cuts if Congress fails to meet a fiscal target has exempted the basic low-income (or “means-tested”) entitlement programs from those cuts. The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings laws of 1985 and 1990, the deficit reduction agreement of 1990, and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 — all bipartisan pieces of legislation — included that exemption. So did last year’s “pay-as-you-go” law, which requires Congress to offset the cost of new tax cuts or increases in entitlement programs so they don’t increase the deficit. Congress has never enacted a law with an across-the-board cut mechanism that subjects core assistance for the poor to these cuts.
But in the last few weeks, House Republicans have advanced two major pieces of legislation that would do just that. Both the “Cut, Cap, and Balance Act,” which the House passed last week, and the new Boehner debt-ceiling proposal drop all of the low-income exemptions that have been part of every previous across-the-board cut mechanism since 1985.
And, in an exercise in political cynicism, both of these bills add an exemption — for payments to Medicare providers – that was not part of the previous laws. This enables the bill’s authors to claim they are protecting Medicare, even as they subject those living below the poverty line to the risk of automatic cuts that would push them even deeper into poverty. (To be sure, these two measures do not protect Medicare — or Social Security — from being cut by Congress to meet the extremely austere budget targets the bills erect; they only protect those programs from being cut automatically if the targets are not adhered to.)"