WASHINGTON — House Republicans want $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts to take effect next month but will try to blunt the impact on the nation's military, Oklahoma lawmakers say.
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said the Republican-controlled House likely will consider legislation this month to re-allocate the cuts so they don't disproportionately hit the military.
Lankford, a member of the House GOP leadership, declined to discuss the specifics of the plan, but he said the Republican alternative would require more changes to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. As structured, only 2 percent of the reductions in the next 10 years would come from Medicare and none from Medicaid, Lankford said.
A plan to change entitlements would likely have no chance of becoming law without an agreement by Republicans to raise more revenue, since the White House has insisted on a deal that combines spending cuts with higher taxes.
White House spokesman Jay Carney and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said eliminating tax credits and deductions used by oil and gas companies should be part of the discussion.
“It can't be we'll let (the automatic cuts) kick in because we insist that tax loopholes remain where they are for corporate jet owners, or subsidies provided to the oil and gas companies that have done so exceedingly well in recent years have to remain in place,” Carney told reporters.
Lankford and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said House Republicans would not back any deal involving more revenue to alter the cuts.
“I think they're under the assumption that Republicans are going to cave on this,” Cole said. “We're not going to.”
Lankford agreed, saying, “What is worse than the (automatic cuts) is no cuts at all.”
Cole and Lankford both serve on the House Budget Committee.
Cole is also on the subcommittee that oversees military spending.
Cole, whose district includes Tinker Air Force Base and Fort Sill, said he doesn't want the cuts to take effect as currently written and that House Republicans had passed legislation twice last year to reduce the impact on the military. The Senate never took up the House legislation, and the White House has not offered its own plan specifically tailored for the cuts.
“We are headed for a train wreck, and I would say it's because the president and the Senate haven't done their jobs,” Cole said.
Carney said last week that the president has offered numerous deficit-reduction proposals, including cuts and revenue raising steps.
The $1 trillion in cuts — known as the sequester — are the result of the deal made in 2011 to raise the debt ceiling. The cuts are spread out over 10 years, with the military bearing about half and the rest hitting other government departments and agencies.
If they go into effect March 2 as scheduled, the military and other departments will have to make immediate and deep cuts. Lankford said the military would have to cut 8 percent out of its budget over just a few months.
An analysis prepared for Sen. Jim Inhofe last week warned that the cuts could lead to widespread furloughs at Oklahoma's three Air Force bases, its Army post and Army ammunition depot. Moreover, according to the Republican staff analysis, maintenance at Tinker's massive repair center would be dramatically scaled back, and training at all of the other bases would be curtailed.
Pentagon officials have made similar warnings, saying some civilians could be subject to 22 furlough days between March and Oct. 1.
Lankford said the Pentagon was planning for the worst but that the military has “unobligated” money in accounts that it can draw from to lessen the pain.
“At the end of the day, they're not going to furlough at those levels,” he said.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who is working to prevent the deep cuts to the military, also has authored legislation to help the Pentagon if the cuts do occur. His bill would allow Pentagon leaders to shift money among their many accounts so they can better manage the reductions.
Cole said, “I agree with Senator Inhofe. I think his approach in giving more flexibility to the military will find favor with House Republicans.”
Cole said most of the focus has been on the military but that other agencies important to Oklahoma also will be hit, including the National Weather Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Indian Health Service.
“I would prefer this not to happen,” he said. “But we have to get serious about deficit reduction.”