House Leader Suggests 'Common Sense Alternatives' to Sequester

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The dreaded automatic spending cuts slated to kick in March 1 could be avoided with some “common-sense alternatives” to reduce waste in agency budgets, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on Wednesday, the day before a USA Today-Pew Research Center poll showed a majority of Americans backing President Obama’s approach to the fiscal stalemate.

“President Obama is warning of the grave effects of the sequester he proposed in 2011,” Cantor said in a statement. “House Republicans agree this is not the best way to cut spending….Rather than offer serious spending cuts to replace the sequester, President Obama offers more of the same politics and argues for more tax revenue.”

Instead of putting “public safety and national security at risk,” Cantor argued for reducing improper payments, which totaled $115 billion in fiscal 2011, as well as curbing duplication in overlapping programs the Government Accountability Office has identified.

Cantor said “waste” in government spending includes:

  • $2.2 billion in 2013 on free cellphones;
  • $51.6 million on promotion of the Affordable Care Act;
  • $4 million on a TV studio run by the Internal Revenue Service;
  • “Vacation getaways,” the term Cantor used for the “183 conferences paid for by federal agencies over the last several years [that] cost taxpayers more per attendee than the infamous October 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas;”
  • $1.7 billion in property maintenance on underutilized sites;
  • $100 million in Environmental Protection Agency grants to foreign countries over the past decade;
  • $1.2 million spent by the National Science Foundation so senior citizens could play the videogame “World of Warcraft” to study its impact on the brain; and,
  • $47,000 spent by the Veterans Affairs Department on a cigarette-smoking machine.

Cantor proposed a series of entitlement policy and tax changes that included “reforming the Medicaid provider tax,” to save $9.8 billion; increasing Medicare means-testing for upper-income Americans, to save $20 billion; “updating the federal employee retirement system to more closely track with the private sector,” to save $21 billion; requiring individuals to return “overpayments” in their subsidies for joining a state health insurance exchange, to save $44 billion; eliminating the “Public Health Slush Fund in ObamaCare,” to save $10 billion; and requiring food stamp recipients to prove eligibility, to save $26 billion.

The new nationwide poll, meanwhile, found that 76 percent of Americans believe the president and Congress should focus on a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the budget deficit. Only 19 percent agreed with the current GOP stance that tax increases should be “off the table.”

The poll found little urgency among the public for avoiding sequestration. Only one-fourth of the 1,504 respondents contacted between Feb. 13 and Feb. 18 had “heard a lot” about the looming, across-the-board cuts.

“If the president and Congress cannot reach a deficit reduction agreement before the deadline,” the poll analysts said, “40 percent of Americans say it would be better to let the automatic spending cuts go into effect, while 49 percent say it would be better to delay the cuts.”

Both political parties appeared evenly divided over which approach is better, and among Democrats, roughly a third favored letting the sequester take effect over any delays. “As with previous conflicts over the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff, Obama holds the upper hand politically over congressional Republicans,” the summary said. “If there is no deficit deal by March 1, 49 percent say congressional Republicans would be more to blame while just 31 percent would mostly blame President Obama.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this story listed the wrong amount spent on a cigarette-smoking machine. It was $47,000.

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