The Republicans who control of the purse strings in the House announced plans Thursday to cut basic domestic spending by at least $43 billion this year through reductions to most federal departments — though they still fell short of the GOP's pledge just months ago to return to pre-stimulus levels.
Considered the opening salvo in the fight over the next federal budget, the chairmen of the House Budget and Appropriations committees floated plans to cap discretionary spending this year at $1.055 trillion — almost $74 billion less than what President Obama proposed for 2011, but only $35 billion less than was spent in 2010.
"Washington's spending spree is over," said Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. "As House Republicans pledged — and voted to affirm on the House floor last week — the spending limits will restore sanity to a broken budget process and return spending for domestic government agencies to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels."
Some conservative Republicans said the plan doesn't do enough and urged House leaders to stick to their pledge in September to cut $100 billion, while Democrats said the cuts go too deep, too fast.
"I believe it is essential to address our large and unsustainable budget deficit, but we cannot do so at the expense of our economic recovery and the need to foster job growth," said Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the House Budget Committee. "The immediate spending cuts proposed today by House Republicans will harm the economy and put more people out of work."
Whatever number the House meets, it will have to be squared with the Senate's. Because Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, lawmakers likely will have some give-and-take on the overall level and specific makeup of cuts.
The fiscal year 2011 spending bills, which control annual discretionary spending, are already four months overdue, since the fiscal year began Oct. 1. Democrats, who controlled all the levers of government until this year, failed to pass a budget or any of the dozen spending bills, leaving the government running on a stopgap measure that is funding most agencies at 2010 levels.
Already a third of the way into the fiscal year, Congress is unlikely to pass full-year spending for at least another month. Mr. Ryan said the cuts he's proposing would come to about $100 billion over a full year.
That justification hasn't convinced tea party activists, who helped power the GOP to victory in last year's elections.
"Republican leadership needs to step up and show the spine to get it done," said Mark Meckler, a national spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots. "They can play linguistic games all they want, but they promised to start with $100 billion in cuts and we expect to see it. They are on a very closely watched probation with the people who elected them."
Some conservative House members said they will push for their leaders to fulfill the full pledge they made to voters.
"Anything short of our pledge to cut $100 billion from FY11 will be getting off on the wrong foot," said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. "We can't ignore the fact that our budget deficit is clocking in at $1.5 trillion and our debt at more than $14 trillion. We're going to have to do much better and cut much more."
Several lawmakers have proposed deeper, specific sets of cuts that have drawn fire.
Under the proposal outlined Thursday by Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, the State Department, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health and Human Services face the deepest cuts measured by dollar amount, while the Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security budgets also get trimmed.
Compared with the spending blueprint that President Obama offered last February, the GOP plan cuts $58 billion in proposed non-security discretionary spending and nearly $16 billion in proposed security spending.
The proposal allows for defense spending to increase 1.9 percent over 2010 levels, but it would still come in 2.5 percent less than what Mr. Obama proposed.
Some conservatives and many Democrats have urged Republican leaders to find cuts in military spending, which accounts for more than half of total discretionary spending.
James R. Horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the difficult work for Republicans will be when the Appropriations Committee has to produce the bills that carry out the cuts and voters see what the reductions mean for education funding or other priorities.
Mr. Horney said during last year's campaign that voters may have come away thinking the savings could be achieved through cutting earmarks and waste, fraud and abuse. That will change when the real cuts are made, he said.
"Nobody has talked about this would mean we cut education funding 15 to 20 percent, or we cut the FBI, and so on," he said.
The House paved the way for the budget targets last week by passing a nonbinding resolution that granted Mr. Ryan the power to establish a spending ceiling. Mr. Ryan is expected Tuesday to file the budget resolution that will officially task the Appropriations Committee to report back with specific cuts.
"We are going go line by line to weed out and eliminate unnecessary, wasteful, or excess spending — and produce legislation that will represent the largest series of spending reductions in the history of Congress," Mr. Rogers said. "These cuts will not be easy, they will be broad and deep, they will affect every Congressional district, but they are necessary and long overdue."
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