House GOP pits Pentagon vs. poor

Updated
 
The House GOP leadership is supposed to prevent votes like today's.
The House GOP leadership is supposed to prevent votes like today's.
Associated Press

Even by the standards of House Republicans, this was a rather extraordinary vote.

The House voted Thursday to override steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget mandated by last summer’s debt deal and replace them with spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs.

While doomed in the Senate and opposed by the White House, the legislation, which would reduce the deficit by $243 billion, is a Republican marker for post-election budget talks with the White House.

Zero Democrats voted for the bill, and the proposal went too far for 16 House Republicans, who broke ranks and voted with Dems.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: House Republicans voted to hurt the poor; it’s hardly unusual. But this one’s worth appreciating in more detail, because the GOP took an enormous election-year risk with this unusually callous proposal, and Democratic attack ads will write themselves.

House Republicans proposed major cuts to the Defense budget as part of the debt-ceiling fiasco from last summer. They didn’t want the cuts, but they proposed the military reductions as a way to create an incentive for themselves to reach a bipartisan debt-reduction deal. But then GOP policymakers ran into a different problem: they didn’t want a bipartisan debt-reduction deal and they didn’t want their own proposed punishment.

Which leads us to this new proposal. To offset the Pentagon cuts Republicans proposed but no longer support, the House GOP voted to find all of the savings by taking from programs that benefit struggling workers and families. Today’s measure is nothing short of brutal, slashing food stamps, nearly eliminating job-training programs, eliminating health care subsidies, slashing the child tax credit, and taking school meals from 200,000 low-income children.

And all of this would come on top of the spending cuts Democrats already agreed to as part of the same debt-ceiling deal.

It’s almost as if House Republicans want to collectively personify C. Montgomery Burns.

The GOP isn’t just giving the appearance of cruel villains, they’re fighting to literally take food away from poor children to avoid cutting a massive Pentagon budget by even a penny.

And best of all, they passed this measure today for no practical reason – House Republicans know full well the Senate will never pass this and President Obama will never accept it. In theory, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders are supposed to protect their caucus from ridiculous election-year votes like these, but instead, Republicans did all of this on purpose, knowing their callousness couldn’t pass anyway.

It’s not only madness from a policy perspective, it’s also playing with fire from an electoral perspective. As Jonathan Bernstein explained earlier this week:

The real mystery is why Republicans are constantly voting on bills containing unpopular provisions (attacking the child tax credit???), especially since these votes are merely symbolic. It’s possible that it’s because they believe their own rhetoric and mistakenly believe voters will reward them for “courage.” It’s possible that inexperienced Members simply trust [Paul] Ryan, and that he doesn’t think his agenda is unpopular. But whatever the motive, it’s hard to see what the House GOP is up to as anything other than a repeated unforced error that Democrats will likely exploit during the fall campaign.

The only folks happier than right-wing activists about today’s vote? The DCCC.

Defense Spending and Budget

House GOP pits Pentagon vs. poor

Updated