As House Republicans parry Democratic criticism that they’ve gone too far with proposed spending cuts, they confront a battle within their own ranks over whether the cuts go far enough.
A faction of House Republicans plans to continue pushing for bigger budget savings than party leaders recommended last week, reductions that Democrats argue would harm the U.S. economic recovery.
Republicans won control of the House in November on promises to slash government spending by $100 billion this year. Leaders backed off that pledge, offering a plan they will take up next week that trims 2011 spending by $35 billion, in part because the fiscal year already is almost half over. The cuts are $58 billion less than President Barack Obama requested for non-security discretionary spending.
The House Republicans pushing for the full $100 billion in cuts aren’t buying their leadership’s reasoning.
“We are going to be accused of hating children, seniors, clean air and all of the above, so you might as well come out all at once out of the box and say ‘this is what I am trying to do,’” said Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican and member of the Appropriations Committee. “Many members feel like, ‘now, you said $100 billion.’”
In addition to pushing for the full $100 billion in cuts, the Republican Study Committee wants to roll back non-defense discretionary spending next year to 2006 levels for 10 years, beyond the 2008 levels Republican leaders have called for this year.
House Republican leaders “seem to have a little mini-revolt within their party,” said Robert Bixby, head of the Washington-based Concord Coalition, which promotes balanced budgets. “This could be a real problem for them, trying to tamp down some unrealistic expectations on how fast you can bring the deficit under control.”
The proposal to return to 2006 funding levels would mean reductions of about 40 percent in a decade for financing education programs, cancer research, national parks and FBI agents, said James Horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“The American people would be horrified by cuts like that,” Horney said.
A spokesman for the Republican Study Committee, Brian Straessle, said the group’s plan doesn’t identify any specific percentage cuts for programs, and lawmakers can set their own priorities on where to make reductions.
‘La La Land’
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who heads the Republican Study Committee, said that only in the “La La Land of Washington” would his group’s proposed cuts be considered drastic.
“Back home in Ohio, western Ohio, the area I represent, people are saying of course you should get $100 billion in savings,” he said.
Jordan called the Republican leaders’ push for spending cuts “a great start.” Still, Jordan said, “We’re going to push for more.”
Republican Study Committee members intend to offer their proposed spending reductions on the House floor when lawmakers debate a measure to fund federal agencies through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. A current stopgap measure to keep the government running expires March 4.
The debate will follow the Feb. 14 release of Obama’s proposed fiscal 2012 budget. Obama has called for a five-year freeze on discretionary spending outside of national security.
House Republican leaders, after announcing the overall spending shrinkage they set for various areas, plan to release specific cuts later this week. Under the caps, transportation and housing programs would see cuts of 17 percent, while health and education programs would be reduced by 4 percent.
‘Harm the Economy’
The ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, said such cuts would “harm the economy and put more people out of work.”
The Republican leadership plan would peg total 2011 appropriations at $1.055 trillion, compared with last year’s $1.091 trillion and the $1.128 trillion the administration had requested. The government’s total budget, including entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security, is $3.7 trillion. The government’s budget deficit will widen this year to $1.5 trillion, the Congressional Budget Office estimated last month.
“For us to get our fiscal house in order, we’re going to have to make cuts to just about everything,” said Representative Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican who in November defeated Democrat John Spratt, the former Budget Committee chairman. “The 2006 funding levels were not draconian. The government was fat and happy back then.”
Mulvaney is among the more than 70 of 87 new House Republicans who joined the Republican Study Committee, which has 175 members, more than half of the 242 Republicans in the chamber.
The freshmen “are on a mission to fix things,” Jordan said. “They came here understanding the same old, same old isn’t going to work. It’s time to drastically reduce spending.”