GOP offers smaller budget cuts on debt measure

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are far less ambitious this week in their demands for spending cuts to erase new debt

issued to pay the government's bills than they were during a budget battle two years ago.

The list of cuts under consideration now tallies up to a fraction of the almost $1 trillion in additional borrowing that would

be permitted under a GOP proposal for enabling the government to pay its bills through December of next year.

Two years ago, House Speaker John Boehner,

R-Ohio, insisted on spending cuts totaling $2.1 trillion over a decade

as the price

to meet President Barack Obama's demand for a like-sized increase

in the government's borrowing cap, also known as the debt

ceiling.

Those cuts involved tighter "caps" on agency

operating budgets as well as the automatic, across-the-board cuts known

as sequestration

triggered by the failure of a deficit "supercommittee" to reach a

deal.

The problem now is that there isn't a roster

of big, politically palatable cuts ready to go. Instead, Republicans

have put

together a grab bag of smaller savings ideas, like higher pension

contributions for federal workers, higher premiums for upper-income

Medicare beneficiaries, caps on medical malpractice verdicts and

reduced payments to hospitals that treat more poor people

than average.

A leading set of proposals comes from a

House GOP leadership office and was circulating on Washington's K Street

lobbying

corridor on Monday. It includes a plan to increase pension

contributions of federal civilian workers by up to 5 percentage

points and lowering the federal match accordingly, which could

help defray the deficit by up to $84 billion over a decade.

Another, to block immigrants in the country illegally from

claiming the child tax credit would save just $7 billion over the

same period. Eliminating the Social Services Block Grant, a

flexible funding stream for states to help with day care, Meals

on Wheels, and drug treatment facilities, would save less than $2

billion a year.

Taken together, these proposals and others could cut spending by perhaps $200 billion over the coming decade. While GOP aides

say details aren't set, House leaders are looking at an increase in the current $16.7 trillion debt ceiling sufficient to

cover the government's bills until the beginning of 2015. According to calculations by the Bipartisan Policy Center think

tank in Washington, that would require raising the borrowing cap by almost $1 trillion.

Boehner insists that any increase in the

borrowing cap be matched by budget cuts and other reforms to produce

savings of an

equal amount, though not on a dollar-for-dollar basis over 10

years like in 2011. It's a somewhat nebulous standard because

of the difficulty in quantifying how much any given "reform" is

worth.

Obama says he won't negotiate concessions as the price for authority to continue borrowing to cover bills already incurred

and promises already made and has demanded a "clean" debt limit increase with no conditions attached.

The looming debt limit showdown is separate from the "defund Obamacare" fight occupying the Senate this week in the face of

Oct. 1 deadline for completing a temporary spending bill and a averting a partial government shutdown.

GOP lawmakers and aides say the debt ceiling

measure will be paired with a one-year delay in requiring people to buy

health

insurance under Obama's Affordable Care Act or face federal fines.

They also plan to attach to it a tax reform package lowering

rates and closing loopholes, an increase in offshore oil leases

and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Boehner views tax reform and the Keystone

pipeline as economy boosters that will produce new government revenues

exceeding

any debt limit increase. A boost in growth domestic product (GDP)

of just one-tenth of 1 percentage point, for example, would

increase the government revenues by more than $300 billion over a

decade according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"While we're still working on the details, the proposal will comply with the Boehner rule in terms of reducing the deficit,"

said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Still, the proposals pale in comparison to

ideas in the non-binding GOP budget plan passed earlier this year, which

promised

a balanced budget in 10 years that was possible only with severe

cuts to Medicaid, food stamps and domestic programs like

health research, housing, education and others. The GOP budget

promised $4.6 trillion in cuts over a decade but didn't give

a lot of specifics about how deeply many programs would have to be

cut.

Other proposals listed in the GOP leadership's list of options, include:

• Eliminating the authority of the government to charge a bailout fee to big banks under the Dodd-Frank financial oversight

law. The fee could only be charged it there's a major bank failure. The document claims $23 billion in savings.

Increase Medicare "means testing" to permit higher premiums for Medicare beneficiaries, raising $56 billion.

Cap "pain and suffering" damages in medical

malpractice lawsuits to $250,000 and cap punitive damages at the

greater of $250,000

or twice the economic damages in such suits.

Reduce a gimmick in which states levy taxes on health care providers as a way to game the Medicaid system and receive higher

federal payments at a savings of $11 billion.