In a move that has “tea party” written all over it, Republicans in the House of Representative propose to cut spending for the rest of this fiscal year by what they claim is “the largest single discretionary spending reduction in the history of Congress.”
Will it pass? That’s unlikely, given Democratic control of the Senate and President Obama’s authority to veto what’s called a “continuing resolution.”
Still, the action sets the scene for what could be a knock-down-drag-out political fight. And while the amount in question is just a fraction of overall government spending, it wallops many popular programs – including some highly favored by the Obama administration.
“The CR contains over $100 billion in cuts compared to the President’s request – fully meeting the spending reduction goal outlined in the Republican ‘Pledge to America’ while providing common sense exceptions for our troops and veterans,” says Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “These cuts go far and wide, and will affect every community in the nation.”
“These were hard decisions, and I know many people will not be happy with everything we’ve proposed in this package,” he said. “That’s understandable and not unexpected, but I believe these reductions are necessary to show that we are serious about returning our nation to a sustainable financial path.”
Among those programs facing steep cuts: environmental protection, renewable energy, transportation (including high-speed rail), housing, community health centers, border security, the Peace Corps, and Pell Grants for low-income college students.
(Actual cuts total $61 billion. The $100 billion cited by Rogers comes out of Obama’s FY 2011 budget, which was never enacted.)
“The priorities identified in this proposal for some of the largest cuts – environmental protection, healthcare, energy, science, and law enforcement – are essential to the current and future well-being of our economy and communities across the country," Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii said in a statement.
Others raise the specter of 1995, when then-president Bill Clinton vetoed a spending bill written by the GOP-controlled House (led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich), resulting in a temporary halt to many government programs – including the closing of national parks at a time when many Americans were on vacation. The budget snit eventually was resolved, but Clinton won in the court of public opinion – which helped him win reelection the following year.
This year, the government could shut down if a new continuing resolution is not passed by March 4. That would lay off tens of thousands of workers – more when private firms filling government contracts are added in. That’s not a politically-palatable prospect at a time when unemployment remains high.
The cuts are more than symbolic. Still, they target only about 13 percent of the government's $3.7 trillion budget.
Originally, the House GOP leadership planned for about $32 billion in spending cuts. But feeling the hot breath of hardcore fiscal conservatives – including many new freshmen, not to mention the tea party movement – they upped that to $61 billion (or “$100 billion” below what Obama wanted to spend).
The budgetary exercise points up internal friction within the GOP over government spending and budget-balancing.
There are the tea partiers, and then there are what might be called the tea-totallers – that slight majority of Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) who don’t fall in line with the tea party movement.
According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, “across a wide range of issues – including federal spending on entitlements, education, agriculture, and energy – the spending preferences of Republicans and GOP leaners who do not agree with the tea party are far more in sync with Democrats than with Republican supporters of the tea party.”
“A third of Republicans and GOP leaners who agree with the Tea Party favor decreasing federal education spending, compared with just 4 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans,” reports Pew. “Instead, 64 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans want increased education spending, as do 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners.”
Similarly, there are differences within the Republican base over Social Security, Medicare, foreign aid, and help for the unemployed. Which is why House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio and his lieutenants saluted smartly in deference to party conservatives.
Meanwhile, the fun is just beginning. On Monday, the Obama administration unveils its proposed budget for 2012.