U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has added to his fiscal “Plan B” a measure that would cancel pending defense cuts and shield the Pentagon from further budget shrinkage in 2013. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Bowing to criticism and throwing his hawkish members a life vest, House Speaker John Boehner has added to his fiscal “Plan B” a measure that would cancel pending defense cuts and shield the Pentagon from further budget shrinkage in 2013.
The Ohio Republican leader left many on Capitol Hill bewildered Dec. 18 when he revealed a plan he intended to bring to the House floor on Dec. 20: a bill to partially avoid the so-called fiscal cliff that would allow twin $500 billion cuts to projected defense and domestic spending to kick in Jan. 2.
Many GOP hawks opted against questioning Boehner, but Democrats and analysts said his fiscal “Plan B,” which would raise tax rates on individuals who earn more than $1 million annually, might fail to attract support from pro-defense Republicans.
Democrats, including the White House, publicly panned the Boehner plan for failing to include spending cuts. The speaker has demanded that any big fiscal deal include more spending cuts than President Obama so far has proposed.
In response, the speaker’s office revealed late Dec. 19 that House members the next day would vote on a measure that calls for more cuts while also canceling the defense cuts, which would be carried out through a process known as sequestration.
Posted late Dec. 19 by the House Rules Committee, Boehner’s “Plan B” addition would require $19 billion in new discretionary spending cuts. It also would allow the president and the White House Office of Management and Budget to conduct a sequestration round if fiscal 2013 discretionary spending levels exceed specific limits, known as caps.
But the Boehner measure would prohibit the president from tapping the defense budget in 2013 to get under spending caps.
“Any sequestration order issued by the president ... to carry out reductions to direct spending for the defense function (050) for fiscal year 2013 ... shall have no force or effect,” states the legislation.
Members of the House Rules Committee held a late-night Dec. 19 hearing on the “Plan B” bill. During that hearing, members toggled between tense and slap happy. Some questioned whether members have been given ample time to read and study the speaker’s legislation.
It remains unclear whether Boehner’s “Plan B” legislation will pass the lower chamber.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Dec. 19 that the “Plan B” bill “won’t pass [due to] Democratic support.”
The White House said Obama would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
The vote comes as the speaker remains in talks with Obama about a broad deficit-reduction plan ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline, after which the nation would plunge off the cliff and the 10-year defense and domestic cuts would be triggered.
Obama told reporters Dec. 19 that he and Boehner are relatively close to striking such a deal.