LOUISVILLE — Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth warned Monday that deep spending cuts being pushed by congressional House Republicans would imperil the nation's tenuous economic recovery and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs at a time of stubbornly high unemployment.
Fielding questions from The Courier-Journal's editorial board, Yarmuth complained that the poor would shoulder the brunt of the $61 billion in cuts envisioned in the GOP-led House's version of the budget that would fund the government through September.
"These are cuts that have serious impact on the most vulnerable populations of the country," Yarmuth, who represents a Louisville-area district, told the board in a wide-ranging interview that was streamed live online.
"On the other hand, there were no cuts made in subsidies to oil companies, or coal companies or any change on the wealthy," he said. " We haven't even made life ... inconvenient for the wealthiest Americans, and yet we've asked the most vulnerable populations to sacrifice a lot."
Fellow Kentuckian Hal Rogers, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in response that the cuts envisioned by House Republicans would reverse "out-of-control Democrat spending" that in the past two years increased discretionary spending by more than 80 percent. Rogers, a Republican whose district spans much of eastern Kentucky, including some of the nation's most impoverished pockets, said the proposed cuts are "deep, but manageable."
"I know many people will not be happy with everything we've proposed in this package," he said in a statement. "But I believe these reductions are necessary to show that we are serious about returning our nation to a sustainable financial path."
Facing a mushrooming federal deficit, Republican leaders are under pressure from the Tea Party-backed members in their own party to make deep spending cuts.
Yarmuth, a member of the House budget committee, said the 87 GOP House freshmen have shown "almost a religious fervor for cutting the government" that could complicate talks among congressional Democrats and Republicans along with the Obama administration in seeking a compromise.
"They also seem to not really care much about politics, which in one sense is respectable but it's also a factor that makes it more difficult to compromise," Yarmuth said of the GOP House freshman class.
Yarmuth predicted there's a slightly better than 50 percent chance that Congress and the White House will reach a budget deal that avoids a government shutdown. He said the choice is between dramatic cuts that potentially derail the economic recovery, or moderate cuts that help set a "clear path to fiscal stability."
"If you cut $61 billion or more out of the federal budget, you're going to lose hundreds of thousands of jobs," Yarmuth warned.