WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he'd welcome a bipartisan move to replace budget cuts to domestic agencies and the Pentagon with cuts elsewhere in the government's almost $4 trillion budget.
Such a move, backed by Democrats and pragmatic-minded Republicans alike, would reprise an approach taken two years ago to replace automatic budget cuts known as sequestration that have alarmed both defense hawks and supporters of domestic programs like health research and space exploration.
Boehner said he'd be willing to swap cuts to so-called mandatory programs — which make up most of the budget and run as if on autopilot unless specifically cut by lawmakers — to add billions of dollars of dollars to day-to-day agency operating budgets that have absorbed the brunt of sequestration.
"If there's a way to reduce mandatory spending in a way that would provide relief to the sequester like we did with the Ryan-Murray budget plan, have at it," Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
Boehner was referring to a 2013 plan by the former chairmen of the House and Senate Budget panels that provided two years' worth of partial relief to the automatic cuts and gave stability to the rocky budget process after House Republicans incited a partial shutdown of the government that fall. The heads of the panels at the time were Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Sequestration is a byproduct of an earlier hard-fought 2011 budget and government debt agreement that set up a deficit-cutting "supercommittee" charged with finding up to $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over 10 years. When the supercommittee failed, automatic cuts of about $90 billion a year hit many federal programs, though Social Security benefits and many safety net programs were exempt.
House Republicans last month passed a budget that called for easing budget caps that would have effectively frozen the Pentagon's budget but that left in place sequestration limits that are crimping domestic programs.
The 2016 budget year begins Oct. 1. Boehner said he'd welcome negotiations before then.
"If such an effort can get off the ground, hope springs eternal," Boehner said.