House GOP's Spending Cut Less Than Expected

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) is filing a budget limit this week that would cut government spending by $32 billion starting March 5. 

The Appropriations Committee will use the new spending levels to determine specific government department cuts and write a new Continuing Resolution (CR) bill that will come to the floor for a vote next week. 

The CR would be the largest one-time discretionary spending cut in history. However, the $32 billion would only cut this year’s budget deficit by 2.2%.

Because the Democrats never passed a budget or appropriations bills last year, the government is currently being funded with a short-term CR, which keeps spending at last year’s Democrat-determined levels. 

The new levels set by Ryan, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, would fund the government for the rest of  Fiscal Year 2011, which goes through September 30. 

Ryan’s budget falls short of the House Republicans’ promise to cut back to 2008 spending levels. 

During the midterm elections campaign season, they promised in their Pledge to America to “cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving at least $100 billion in the first year alone.”

However, Ryan’s budget sets discretionary spending for FY 2011 at $42 billion higher than FY 2008. 

The Budget Committee explanation for the 2011 level ($420 billion) being higher than 2008 ($378 billion) is that the FY 2011 number includes the outgoing spending for the first five months of the fiscal year, which is at the higher Democrats’ level.

But, the Committee was unable to provide the numbers to show that their new CR cuts discretionary spending levels for the rest of the fiscal year to 2008 levels. Ryan does not say.

Despite the discrepancy in the numbers, the Republican leadership insists that the new spending levels meet their campaign promise.

“The continuing resolution bill that will be brought to the floor will fulfill our commitment that we are going to reduce the fiscal year’s levels of discretionary non-security spending back down to ’08 levels,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.-Va.) said yesterday.

The GOP emphasized that the larger picture is that the new discretionary spending level is a giant spending cut from that of the formerly Democrat-controlled Congress and President.

Ryan’s budget sets discretionary spending for the remaining seven months of FY 2011 at $44 billion less than FY 2010 and $58 billion less than President Obama proposed in his budget last year (that never passed). 

But, the GOP budget increases spending on security to $635 billion, which is $8 billion more than last year. The security spending level, however, is $16 billion less than Obama requested.

Internally, the Republicans suffered blowback from their party for not cutting enough immediately to meet the $100 billion promised in the pledge.

A group of 11 Republican Senators sent a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R.-Ohio) last week asking him to keep to the $100 billion promise.  GOP Senators Tom Coburn (Okla.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), John Ensign (Nev.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), and David Vitter (La.) wrote the following, in part, to Boehner:

“We believe that, as a part of the urgent need to cut federal spending, the total value of the Fiscal Year 2011 spending reductions in the upcoming continuing resolution should be no less than $100 billion.  The American people expect at least this level—which is just one-fifteenth of the FY 2011 budget deficit.”

I asked Cantor how the budget cuts would in fact meet the Republicans’ promise.  The Majority Leader said that the difference will be made up in the next full 12-month period, instead of just the seven months of the current fiscal year during which they control spending.

“It fulfills the pledge because we said in a year’s time we were going to cut spending by $100 billion.  As you know, we are five-twelfths of the way through the fiscal year by the time the expiration occurs.

“We will be proposing this again in the next fiscal year, and if you look at it in an annualized basis, I assure you it will be over $100 billion,” Cantor said.

Next Tuesday, the CR will be brought to the floor under an open process so that members of Congress can introduce amendments.  The amendments are still being written by the various factions and Members. 

The debate will go for three days, with the final vote on the measure set for the afternoon of February 17.  The GOP leaders say that any further cuts that pass the House would be encouraged, but dependent on the votes.

“There has been a lot of talk on our side that members want to cut even further, and most of us welcome that talk and will be supporting yet even further cuts,” said Cantor.

Also, Cantor indicated that the process of defunding ObamaCare would start with this CR. He said that the final CR would include language to “preclude any funding to be used” for the health care law. 

The reason that the Republicans have an opportunity to cut spending this early in the fiscal year is due to the Democrats’ not passing a budget, but also a deal brokered between Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) and Obama.

At the end of last year in the lame duck Congress, outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) pushed through a CR that funded the government for the next 10 months at the  Democrats’ high spending levels and with their priorities. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) tried to jam through an almost 2,000-page omnibus spending bill that was laden with earmark spending.

McConnell negotiated a deal with Obama to stop the Democrats from controlling the budget levels for the remaining 10 months of the fiscal year.  The resulting short-term CR funded the government at current spending levels only until March 4, and ceded control over this year’s government spending to the House Republicans, who won the landslide election.

After the House passes the CR next week, the huge spending cuts will still need to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate and be signed by Obama by March 4. Otherwise, the Congress will have to pass yet another short-term CR in order to avert a government shutdown.