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House passes bill undoing defense cuts

By Alan Silverleib, CNN Congressional Producer
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Thu May 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The House GOP passes a bill replacing scheduled defense cuts with domestic reductions
  • The bill has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate
  • The measure would replace this first part of a 10-year, $1.2 trillion deficit reduction package

Washington (CNN) -- The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would replace looming Pentagon spending cuts opposed by the GOP with a series of domestic program reductions opposed by congressional Democrats.

The bill passed in a strongly polarized 218-199 vote. No Democrats supported the measure.

While the legislation has no chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate or surviving a certain presidential veto, it helps set the stage for a campaign showdown over fiscal priorities. It also offers a partial preview of what is shaping up to be a titanic year-end fight over deficit reduction measures set to take effect in 2013.

Specifically, the GOP plan would replace the bulk of a package of roughly $110 billion in defense and domestic cuts currently slated for next year. The Republican proposal would, among other things, cut Medicaid and food stamp spending, reduce spending for President Barack Obama's health care reform law, strip regulators of the ability to wind down failing financial firms, and end a White House program meant to help struggling homeowners.

The measure would generate nearly $20 billion in savings for the current fiscal year, and $243 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

The bill will "protect our military from devastating cuts while providing significant deficit reduction," argued House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "We want to work with the president, but it's about time he gets serious."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-California, urged Congress to avoid what he characterized as "catastrophic cuts to our military."

"Support our troops (and) support our national security," he declared on the House floor.

Democrats accused their Republican counterparts of trying to clean up a fiscal mess on the backs of the poor and the elderly, while protecting special interests and wealthy taxpayers.

This debate "clearly defines the values and vision of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California. "Instead of finding common ground we see two different paths in these budgets."

The GOP bill would amount to "literally taking food out of the mouths of babies," she later said on the House floor.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, warned the Republican measure would "end Medicare as we know it" and in the process "undermine the health and security of millions of American families."

"It's not in keeping with our values as Americans," she insisted.

The spending cuts currently scheduled to take effect in 2013 represent the first stage of a 10-year budget "sequester" set in motion by the 2011 Budget Control Act. That measure, enacted last August, raised the federal debt limit while mandating $1 trillion in cuts and establishing a so-called super committee to find an additional $1.2 trillion to deficit savings over the next decade.

The super committee's failure to find the $1.2 trillion in savings kicked into motion a default plan to cut spending by an equivalent amount. The planned cut -- starting with the $110 billion set for next year -- is split roughly evenly between defense and non-defense spending. The new defense cuts would follow another $450 billion in Pentagon spending reductions.

"Such a large (defense) cut, applied in this indiscriminate manner, would render most of our ship and construction projects unexecutable ... and seriously damage other modernization efforts," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said late last year in a letter to members of Congress.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is pushing for a sharp increase in defense spending.

While congressional Democrats also object to a large number of cuts contained in the sequester, they generally prefer tax hikes on the wealthy to help close the budget gap.

CNN's Charles Riley contributed to this report

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