WASHINGTON - The White House weighed in sharply Wednesday against a House GOP move to break last summer's budget pact by cutting the annual budgets for nondefense programs funded through annual appropriations bills.
Republicans are cutting such programs $28 billion below levels agreed to last summer in the bipartisan budget and debt deal, prompting acting White House budget chief Jeffrey Zients to warn lawmakers in a letter that President Barack Obama will not sign any appropriations bills until GOP leaders promise to abide by last summer's budget pact.
The budget deal last summer set caps for the annual spending bills but House Republicans rewrote them when passing a new budget last month. That set the stage for the annual appropriations process to get under way this week, but a situation is emerging in which House bills funding Obama priorities like education and transportation are likely to bear a disproportionate share of the new cuts.
In this photo provided by CBS News, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during CBS's 'Face the Nation' March 25, in Washington. The debt-slashing GOP budget plan, authored by Ryan and endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week, is heating up as a presidential campaign issue.
Few if any of the 12 annual appropriations bills are likely to get to Obama's desk before Election Day, but Congress will have to pass stopgap funding to avert a government shutdown when the new budget year begins Oct. 1.
The battle over the annual spending bills comes as House Republicans are moving on a separate track to target food stamps, federal employee pensions, tax breaks for illegal immigrants and subsidies under Obama's health care law in a multifaceted drive to swap cuts to domestic programs for big Pentagon cuts scheduled next year.
Those cuts are mostly familiar, though a plan to cut food stamps goes well beyond a bipartisan proposal drafted last year. The Democratic-controlled Senate has no plans for companion legislation.
A measure approved Wednesday by the Agriculture panel would reduce the food stamp monthly benefit for a family of four by almost $60, repealing increases that were enacted three years ago as part of Obama's economic stimulus.
The changes would also force up to 3 million people out of the program by tightening eligibility rules, the administration estimates.
The food stamp cuts would total $8 billion over the coming year and $34 billion over a decade. The program has been expanded greatly over the past few years - enrollment tops 46 million nationwide, up from about 33 million in 2009 - and now costs about $80 billion a year.
The average monthly benefit for a family of four is about $500, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research and advocacy group.