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Republicans Cut Back Budget Plan, Trim Spending Rule

Representative Chris Van Hollen
Representative Chris Van Hollen. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Republicans, who won control of the U.S. House with pledges to slash the federal budget deficit, are already under fire for backpedaling on their promises.

They say they intend to cut spending this fiscal year by about $60 billion, not the $100 billion they promised during last year’s campaign as part of their “Pledge to America.”

The Republicans also decided that they will ignore budget analysts’ estimate that a vote to repeal the administration’s health-care overhaul would add billions to the deficit. And yesterday, they weakened the House’s anti-deficit budgeting rules to make it easier to approve tax cuts that would add to the government’s fiscal shortfall.

Democrats accused Republicans of reneging on campaign commitments on the very day they took power in the House.

“Within the first 24 hours, the new majority seemed to have backtracked on many of their pledges,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “It’s one thing to talk about slashing the budget in the abstract; it’s another thing when you have to see the real-world impact.”

The House Republicans’ pledge, released Sept. 23 during the 2010 congressional campaign’s final weeks, said: “We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt.”

$14 Trillion

The nation’s accumulated debt is $14 trillion, and the deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was $1.3 trillion.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said today that the spending reduction would be about $60 billion in this fiscal year. He rejected suggestions that the party was going back on its proposal, which would require deep cuts in scores of programs such as education, cancer research and aid to local police and firefighters.

“It’s not a backtrack of policy,” he said today at the National Press Club in Washington. He said the cuts he will push for in this fiscal year are “just the beginning” of reductions the House Republicans will seek.

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said his party promised to roll back spending to 2008 levels, which would have saved about $100 billion when compared with the amount President Barack Obama sought in his February 2010 budget request.

Already Achieved

“Some of that savings has already been achieved” through a stopgap budget measure approved by Congress in December that cut spending below Obama’s request, Ryan said yesterday. “We’re going to cut more than $100 billion this calendar year in spending --it’s just not all going to come” from the current fiscal year.

House Speaker John Boehner also disputed claims that Republicans were scaling back the budget-cut promise.

“We will meet our commitment to the pledge in this calendar year,” he told reporters today. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

Another Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Representative Robert Andrews of New Jersey, called the Republican pledge “a $100 billion promise that just vanished.”

Major Reduction

Even $60 billion in cuts would be a major reduction, Democrats said.

“It’s still very, very bad news,” said Representative James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat. “I think $60 billion is as outrageous as $100 billion” though “every billion dollars that we can get them to back away from is good news for some of the neediest people in this country.”

Further potentially raising the deficit, the new House budget rules will let lawmakers cut taxes without having to offset the cost with savings elsewhere in the budget. Proposed spending increases must be paid for with cuts in other areas, and tax increases to pay for new spending are prohibited.

“We didn’t come here to raise taxes -- we came here to cut spending, and the rules should reflect that,” Ryan said.

When Democrats controlled the House from 2007 through 2010, they required tax cuts and spending increases to be paid for, though they often waived the rules when they found them too onerous. To pay for their priorities, Democrats relied on closing what they termed tax loopholes benefiting corporations.

Health-Care Repeal

The new rules will let the House vote next week to repeal the administration’s 2010 health-care overhaul without offsetting the financial effect. The health-care law is projected by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to save $143 billion over the next 10 years.

Ryan said today “the books have been severely cooked” by Democrats to produce the numbers and that House Republicans plan to ignore such numbers they consider to be phony.

The new rules will allow “a huge explosion in our national debt,” McGovern said during floor debate yesterday. “They promised the American people that they were serious about deficit reduction. Apparently that promise was for campaign purposes only.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said the task of finding budget savings is becoming more difficult because the longer agencies go into the fiscal year, the less remains to cut.

Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said his colleagues must act quickly if they are going to pass the savings they promised.

“There’s some money that’s out the door that we can’t recapture,” Flake said. “The key is to get out there as fast as we can before monies are obligated.”

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