Paul Ryan's newly released budget plan underscores how the bruising deficit battle that consumed Congress last summer still hasn't ended.
In late July, with the two sides at an impasse, lawmakers formulated a compromise they hoped would be palatable to Democrats and Republicans alike. Or, more accurately, a deal whose failure would be unacceptable: If the just-created bipartisan super committee couldn't agree on a plan to slim the deficit, deep cuts to defense and domestic spending would automatically kick in as of January 2013.
The defense cuts were included to put a cherished Republican priority at stake, the reasoning being that the threat of a huge reduction in the military's budget would trump disagreement over taxes and revenue. That didn't end up being the case. Members of the super committee couldn't find common ground, triggering some $600 billion in defense cuts over the next 10 years.
As soon as the super committee talks failed, lawmakers began clamoring to avert the reduction. The opposition was bipartisan. Rep. Howard Buck McKeon, a California Republican and chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, vowed to introduce legislation that would avoid crippling our military. The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, offered a similar response.
The Department of Defense now faces deep, indiscriminate cuts that would not be based on sound policy or strategic review and could undermine our national security, Smith said in a statement released at the time. This is no way to defend our nation.
But President Barack Obama refused to budge, and the deal has remained in place. Democrats rebuffed legislation introduced by a group of Republican senators that would have delayed the cuts.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan recently defended Obama from criticism by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and said he believes Republicans will eventually vote for new tax revenue to avert the cuts.
The dam has got to be broken on revenues. What will break it I believe is the threat of sequestration, Levin said at a breakfast in January, using the term for automatically triggered cuts.
The plan for fiscal 2013 proposed by Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, reprises that fight. Reflecting the Republicans' position during last year's battle over the U.S. debt limit, the Wisconsin congressman calls for offsetting defense cuts not with additional tax revenue, as Levin suggested, but by requiring congressional committees to find additional savings.
The U.S. military is threatened by an uncontrolled debt burden that weakens America -- but defense spending is not the driver of that debt burden, Ryan's proposal reads.
To achieve that goal, the plan would have committees in the House and Senate pare back spending in areas such as federal pensions and health insurance for employees and retirees as well as new regulations on the financial industry.
This budget reprioritizes sequester savings to focus on the problem, which is government spending, and to protect national security from deep and indiscriminate cuts, the budget reads.