WASHINGTON — Federal departments and agencies say U.S. House Republicans’ plans to cut federal spending would result in reductions to key programs like food aid, education assistance and wildfire management.
The series of letters from across the federal government released Monday detail exactly how plans to cut at least $130 billion in domestic spending during the upcoming fiscal year could impact people’s everyday lives.
“The draconian cuts would take away the opportunity for 80,000 people to attend college and impact all 6.6 million students who rely on Pell Grants,” said House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, who requested the letters. “If implemented, 200,000 children will lose access to Head Start, and 100,000 children will lose access to child care, undermining early education and parents’ ability to go to work.”
“As if that was not enough to deter these harmful cuts, 1.2 million women, infants, and children would lose vital nutrition assistance they receive through WIC,” added DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, referring to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children that provides grants to states.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, promised conservatives within his party that he’d cut spending during the upcoming fiscal year, slated to begin Oct. 1, back to the prior year’s levels. The promise was one of many McCarthy made to hold-out Republicans in order to become speaker.
Many top ranking U.S. House Republicans have said they won’t touch Social Security, Medicare or defense spending, leaving domestic spending, Medicaid and food aid for low-income people on the list for potential spending cuts.
While the Democratic Senate and President Joe Biden would have to sign off on any changes, House Republicans are pushing for strict caps on spending levels in exchange for addressing the debt limit.
Those spending cuts, according to the letters from Cabinet secretaries and agency heads, could impact dozens of federal programs and quality of life for many Americans.
Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack wrote, “While Congressional Republicans haven’t released a specific plan, cuts on the scale suggested would have very real and damaging impacts on our families, our communities, our economy, and our competitiveness — undermining a broad range of critical services the American people rely on in their everyday lives such as food and nutrition security, protection of life and property from catastrophic wildland fires, a safe food supply, and more.”
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Kilolo Kijakazi wrote that if spending were to revert to fiscal 2022 levels, the agency would likely have to close field offices, shorten hours, lay off about 6,000 employees and implement a hiring freeze.
“Cuts on this scale would dramatically undermine our ability to function effectively,” Kijakazi wrote.
“It would cut in-person access to our field offices, drive up wait times for initial disability and retirement claims processing, lengthen phone wait times, prohibit development of online tools to compensate for the difficulties to reach us by phone and in-person, and create backlogs across the board,” Kijakazi added.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote the spending cuts would likely “require furloughs of essential safety personnel, including air traffic controllers and safety inspectors, and could also require Reductions in Force (RIF).”
“Under this scenario, safety would be undermined for years to come — curtailing vehicle, rail, pipeline and aviation safety inspections, limiting our research programs across these programs, and significantly compromising our transportation operations,” Buttigieg wrote.
Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland wrote the spending cuts could undermine wildfire management, disrupt services and safety at national parks, affect drought mitigation efforts, cut support for tribal nations, and reduce energy and mineral development.
“Visitors to the national parks would feel the impact of funding reductions at parks across the nation,” Haaland wrote.
“Parks would need to reduce hours, close visitor centers, reduce trash collection and facility cleaning, as well as ranger-led programming,” she added. “The need to curtail services such as snow plowing would impact decisions including whether to maintain winter access to parks like Yosemite National Park, which welcomed over 336,000 visitors this winter despite record levels of snow.”
GOP budget resolution
House Republicans have not yet released their budget resolution for the upcoming fiscal year, though they likely will sometime this spring.
That tax and spending blueprint will give the first look at how much the House GOP wants the federal government to spend on defense and nondefense discretionary programs during fiscal 2024.
The House GOP will then draft the dozen annual appropriations bills for that fiscal year, detailing how much money the party wants to spend on each department and agency that falls within the roughly $1.7 trillion discretionary budget.
House Republicans will have to successfully negotiate those bills with the Democratically controlled Senate and the Biden administration if they’ll have any hope of becoming law.
Senate leaders, who will also move their own appropriations bills through that chamber, are approaching the upcoming appropriations process differently than their House colleagues.
Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Appropriations Committee, and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, have released a handful of joint statements this year pledging bipartisanship.
“Now that the President has released his budget, we are pressing forward with the work of writing our nation’s spending bills as quickly as possible,” they said earlier this month. “We have a real opportunity — and an important responsibility — to work together to make our country safer, more competitive, and do some good for the people we all represent back home. The power of the purse rests with Congress, and we take that responsibility seriously.”
In the event the two chambers cannot reach a bipartisan agreement on spending by October, they can pass a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, that extends current funding levels for months, or they could begin a partial government shutdown.