Republicans Press Boehner Not To Get Squeamish On Spending Cuts

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Rank and file Republicans aren’t happy with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). They think the GOP should take a hatchet to the federal budget now, to make good on their pledge to slash spending by $100 billion “this year.” And their displeasure is spilling out into the open.

“Despite the added challenge of being four months into the current fiscal year, we still must keep our $100 billion pledge to the American people,” reads a draft of a letter to Boehner, obtained by TPM, being circulated by the Republican Study Committee. “These $100 billion in cuts to non-security discretionary spending not only ensure that we keep our word to the American people; they represent a credible down payment on the fiscally responsible measures that will be needed to get the nation’s finances back on track.”

The problem, as Boehner and Ryan have explained, is that they won’t even get a whack at the budget until March, when the government’s current spending authority expires. By then it will only be six months until the end of the fiscal year in September, and they’re having a hard time squeezing a year’s worth of promised cuts through a half-year window.Boehner’s office hasn’t yet received and isn’t commenting on the letter, but says that the final spending levels will be worked out in the legislative process.

Members want leadership to force the issue, though. When the current “continuing resolution” expires, they say, Republicans should adopt a new version that slashes at least $100 billion all at once.

“With this historic opportunity to cut spending and grow our economy, it is critical that our Conference, at a minimum, meet the original $100 billion savings goal through the CR,” the letter reads.

RSC chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) elaborated on this at a press conference on Thursday afternoon. “We also grab unspent stimulus dollars and take it to $125 billion for this fiscal year,” he said. “We think it’s important we hit that number, $100 billion.”

The RSC today unveiled a $2.5 trillion spending cut proposal, compatible with this budgetary goal of $100 billion in savings for this fiscal year. They propose hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to major programs, but achieve most of the savings in the plan by capping spending at 2006 levels and holding spending at that level, regardless of inflation, for the rest of the decade. That’s significantly lower than the 2008 levels Ryan has promised — but future Congresses would not be bound by the cap, and would likely blow through it, if history is any guide.

Ultimately, these decisions about the budget and potential spending cuts will be made at higher levels than Jordan and the RSC — by leadership, by Ryan, and by Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers. But the rank and file are doing their best to make sure they don’t get rolled.

At a Rules Committee hearing Wednesday, Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) sought, and achieved, a symbolic change to a GOP resolution pledging to bring down spending. The subtitle originally described it as a resolution “[t]o reduce spending through a transition to non-security spending at fiscal year 2008 levels.”

Scott’s amendment changed that language: “Reducing non-security spending” to 2008 levels. It doesn’t accomplish any actual spending goals. But it’s a signal to leadership that they’re going to eliminate any amount of wiggle room where they see it.

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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