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President Joe Biden speaks on the debt limit May 10, 2023, at SUNY Westchester Community College, in Valhalla, N.Y. (AP) President Joe Biden speaks on the debt limit May 10, 2023, at SUNY Westchester Community College, in Valhalla, N.Y. (AP)

President Joe Biden speaks on the debt limit May 10, 2023, at SUNY Westchester Community College, in Valhalla, N.Y. (AP)

Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe May 18, 2023
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 18, 2023

Biden casts GOP budget as specific on law enforcement cuts, but it’s unknown

If Your Time is short

  • The House Republican plan to address the budget and the deficit calls for returning discretionary spending to fiscal year 2022 levels and then growing by 1% each year.

  • This would amount to vast cuts across the government bureaucracy, which could affect law enforcement.

  • Republican leaders have said they want to protect some areas from broad cuts, including veterans’ benefits and defense, but their bill doesn’t exempt any department.

Republicans would undermine efforts to control the border and stop illegal drug trafficking if their budget plan became a reality, President Joe Biden warned.

In their standoff with Biden over the debt limit, House Republicans passed a bill April 26 that calls for steep cuts to discretionary programs, exempting Social Security and Medicare. 

The Republican approach leaves other areas of the budget open for cuts, without getting too specific. The White House has used dramatic language to characterize the GOP proposal, calling it a "five-alarm fire" that "endangers public safety."

"The Republican plan would cut federal law enforcement officers — 30,000 — including 11,000 FBI agents, 2,000 border agents, DEA agents, and so on," Biden said in a May 10 speech in New York, using the abbreviation for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Biden isn’t wrong to estimate that the Republicans' plan would result in some level of cuts for multiple departments, including law enforcement tasked with protecting the border and enforcing drug laws. But his statement relies on assumptions.

In practice, the GOP budget proposal is the Republicans’ starting point for negotiations.

The U.S. is poised to hit the debt ceiling as early as June, which would wreak havoc on the economy if Congress can’t agree to raise the debt ceiling limit. The debt ceiling is a dollar figure that constrains how much debt the federal government can carry at a given time to pay for its operations. The limit is legal, not financial, so it doesn’t necessarily reflect how much debt the government can afford to carry based on the economy’s strength.

What’s in the GOP’s Limit, Save, Grow Act

The GOP bill would increase the federal debt limit through March 31, 2024, or until the debt increases by $1.5 trillion, whichever occurs first. If the bill becomes law, budget deficits would be reduced by about $4.8 trillion over the next decade, relative to the Congressional Budget Office baseline, CBO found.

The plan returns discretionary spending to fiscal year 2022 level in fiscal year 2024 and then grows 1% annually for a decade. That adds up to a savings, compared with the previous trajectory of spending, of about $3.2 trillion.

The bill specifies only a few cuts, repealing Biden’s  accomplishments on renewable energy tax credits while slashing funding for IRS enforcement and clawing back unspent COVID-19 money.

The overall restraints on spending are undefined, so White House officials did their own math to determine the effects. 

The legislation House Republicans proposed would set maximum spending for fiscal year 2024 at $1.471 trillion, which would be equal to the 2022 level. Assuming that defense funding in 2024 will at least match its existing level of $885 billion, $586 billion would be left for nondefense funding, which is 22% less than today’s $756 billion.

(A New York Times analysis said if every department saw a cut, it would amount to 18%, but far higher if defense, veterans’ health and border security are spared.)

U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn. the House Appropriations Committee’s ranking member, sought projections from agency heads about how a 22% nondefense spending cut would affect the public. The Office of Management and Budget sought similar data in recent months and sent us a breakdown of what they said were the 30,000 law enforcement jobs at risk including: 

  • FBI: 11,000 FBI personnel.

  • Bureau of Prisons: 15,360 positions, including 7,419 correctional officers.

  • Drug Enforcement Agency: At least 542 positions, including 261 agents.

  • Marshal Service: 629 positions, including 418 deputy U.S. marshals

  • Customs and Border Protection: 2,000 agents and officers

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  • Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms: 500 positions, including 190 agents.

The cuts are a combination of layoffs, furloughs, and being unable to fill jobs lost through attrition.

Remember, these are projections by the Biden administration.

The White House is assuming that the cuts will have to be enacted across the board. But Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the center-right American Action Forum, said the cuts don’t have to be spread across departments equally.

Lawmakers on appropriations committees would decide where to cut and how many dollars for each agency. Then it is up to the agency heads to turn those dollars into plans for staffing and activities. 

Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, told PolitiFact that "the White House is using fake numbers to analyze an appropriations bill that does not exist."

The House Republican bill would set a cap on 2024 discretionary appropriations that reflects a 9% cut from the current level. However, the program-by-program breakdown of those cuts would be determined later by both parties in the annual appropriations process.

Some observers have said the GOP should have laid out in detail where the cuts would be distributed. But for decades, budget committees have first set a spending target, and then appropriations committees set specific funding levels. 

But if Republicans want to protect some areas of the budget, that means larger cuts elsewhere.

"They may want to protect lots of things, but the bill doesn’t require that," said Marc Goldwein  senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. If lawmakers want to exempt spending for defense, veterans and homeland security, they will "need to reduce the other parts much more than that or else adjust the caps."

David Reich, a senior fellow at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who has worked for Democrats, said on Twitter that it’s wrong for House Republicans to characterize the return to 2022 spending as modest, because "making budget comparisons over time requires taking inflation into account."

Taxpayers for Common Sense recently told us that the amount of unspent and unobligated COVID-19 money is less than $100 billion. Joshua Sewell, a senior policy analyst with the nonpartisan budget watchdog, said it would be easy to rescind what’s unspent and unobligated; just as a pen stroke created the money, a pen stroke could take it away.

Sewell told us, "Unallocated pandemic funds are there for the taking, but that’s a small bit of the pie and a one-time shot."

Our ruling

Biden said, "The Republican plan would cut federal law enforcement officers — 30,000 — including 11,000 FBI agents, 2,000 border agents, DEA agents, and so on."

What Biden presents as certain is really more of a guess. The White House made assumptions for broad cuts prescribed in the House-passed Republican bill; the measure does not say it would cut those numbers.

Experts agree with Biden that the House bill would lead to steep cuts, giving the claim an element of truth. Some Republicans have called for keeping funding whole for defense and veterans’ care, which would require deeper cuts in remaining departments. 

But so far no one knows precisely how those cuts would play out — if the Senate and Biden ever agreed to them — which gives taxpayers a misleading impression.

We rate this statement Mostly False.

Senior Correspondent Louis Jacobson contributed to this fact-check.

RELATED: Republicans vow not to cut veterans’ benefits. But the legislation suggests otherwise.

RELATED: Could President Biden use the 14th Amendment to head off a debt default?

RELATED: More than 200 fact-checks of Biden 

Our Sources

White House, Remarks by President Biden on Why Congress Must Avoid Default Immediately and Without Conditions, May 10, 2023

White House, Congressional Republicans’ Legislation: 22% Cuts That Would Harm American Families, Seniors and Veterans, April 22, 2023, H.R.2811 - Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023, May 4, 2023

Congressional Budget Office, Analysis of H.R. 2811, April 25, 2023

Committee for a Responsible budget, CBO Scores the Limit, Save, Grow Act, April 26, 2023

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Press conference, May 11, 2023

Washington Post, Here’s what’s in the House GOP bill to raise debt limit, cut spending, April 19, 2023

Washington Post The Fact Checker, White House touts illusory ‘VA cuts’ as GOP ducks budget specifics, May 4, 2023

Washington Post, Think you can tame the national debt? Play our budget game. May 12, 2023, Republicans Push Back on Democratic Claims of Veterans’ Health Care Cuts in GOP Debt Limit Bill, May 3, 2023

The New York Times, What Would the G.O.P. Plan Actually Do to the Budget?, May 8, 2023

AP, Speaker McCarthy unveils $1.5T debt bill, pushes toward vote, April 19, 2023

Democrats Appropriations Committee, DeLauro Receives Biden Administration Responses Highlighting Impacts of Proposed House Republican Cuts and responses to DeLauro letters , March 20, 2023

Department of Homeland Security, Letter - Impact of Spending Cuts, March 19, 2023

Department of Justice, Letter - Impact of Spending Cuts, accessed May 12, 2023

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Vital Government Services Would Take a $3.6 Trillion Hit in McCarthy Bill, April 24, 2023

 David Reich, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Twitter thread, May 12, 2023

Office of Management and Budget, Statement to PolitiFact, May 18, 2023

Email interview, Michael Kikukawa, President Joe Biden spokesperson, May 12, 2023

Email interview, Marc Goldwein, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, May 12, 2023

Email interview, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, American Action Forum president, May 15, 2023

Email interview, Brian Riedl, Manhattan Institute, senior fellow in Budget, Tax, and Economics, May 15, 2023

Email interview, Joshua Sewell, a senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, May 16, 2023

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Biden casts GOP budget as specific on law enforcement cuts, but it’s unknown

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