Boehner Picks Up Pieces After Report Finds Spending Compromise Means Puny Cuts

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A CBO analysis of the spending cut compromise Democrats and Republicans reached last week that may have avoided a government shutdown has turned into a public relations nightmare for House Speaker John Boehner.

As advertised, when the House and Senate pass the spending bill this afternoon, domestic discretionary appropriations will fall $38 billion from levels set at the beginning of the year. But because some of the cuts will be realized over years, and because some of the savings are culled from left-over money in existing accounts, the bill will only reduce direct spending by about $350 million.

Politico’s David Rogers was the first to crunch the numbers, which we’ve since confirmed. When viewed from this perspective, Boehner appears to have gotten a raw deal, and the White House looks pretty savvy. Conservatives activists and House members were caught off guard, and angry, and now Boehner’s making the rounds to calm everyone’s nerves and convince members once again that he got the best possible deal.Yesterday, his office blasted out a memo fact checking the Politico report.

Budget authority is how much an agency is allowed to spend on a given program – it is literally the license to spend taxpayer dollars.

In Washington terms, “outlays” are how much an agency actually spends over time based on current and prior budget authority. This is what Democrats are referring to: how much these agencies can (and may) spend over the next few months versus how much Congress is cutting from their budgets. And it’s misleading.

The final agreement cuts nearly $40 billion in budget authority – taking away the Administration’s license to spend that money.

Boehner defended the deal on Sean Hannity’s show yesterday, and his press shop forwarded along this blog post from The Weekly Standard and his own op-ed in Politico.

These are both fair ways to look at the issue. Back when the House passed its farther-reaching spending cut bill — HR 1 — CBO found that it would reduce appropriations by $61 billion, but only reduce outlays by $9 billion. House Republicans didn’t flip out when that news broke. But this debate has been framed as one about “spending cuts,” not “cuts in license to spend.” Now Republicans are waking up to the distinction, and aren’t happy about it.

Still, Republican and Democratic aides both say they’re confident the compromise bill will pass both the House and Senate today. Just to be safe, the White House has dispatched aides to whip Democratic votes if the need arises. We’ll find out this afternoon around 4 pm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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