- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is worried House Republicans might try to save a little money with the budget they’re set to release next week. The Nevada Democrat got wind the plan will authorize less than the absolute maximum amount allowed under the debt-ceiling deal signed into law last summer.

This could mean mutually assured political destruction, Mr. Reid warned on Tuesday. “The reports in the press are rife that the Republican right wing - and that says a lot - in the House are trying to change the agreement that we made as a matter of law,” said the Silver State senator. “I guess they love government shutdowns, or at least the threat of them.” Only a tax-and-spend liberal like Mr. Reid could raise such an alarm over the prospect that he won’t be able to spend every single dime of taxpayers’ money he thinks is his to throw around.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan found it hypocritical for the Senate leader to complain when he hasn’t produced a budget since President Obama was elected. “It is difficult to take Sen. Reid’s comments seriously when the United States Senate that he and his party control have been in violation of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act for over 1,000 days,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a written statement.

Mr. Reid will avoid writing a budget once again and instead use the spending caps set in the Budget Control Act (BCA), the final deal made between congressional Republicans and President Obama to lower spending to account for borrowing another $2.1 trillion. The law allows Congress to spend up to $1.047 trillion in 2013. Last year’s House-passed budget planned to spend $19 billion less in 2013. “Webster’s Dictionary defines a ‘cap’ as an upper limit on expenditures - and that’s what it means,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner.

Conservatives also want Mr. Ryan to budget for the $97 billion that will be sequestered from spending on Jan. 2, 2013, to make up for the supercommittee failing to identify cuts. Mr. Ryan said he will reassign the sequester cuts so they don’t fall disproportionately hard on defense, but not whether he will lower the overall spending or push that money into off-budget accounts.

Whatever the top line they give in the budget, Republicans need to keep to it through the rest of the year. “These caps are so perforated with loopholes that they are effectively meaningless,” said Patrick Knudsen, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “The Appropriations Committee already blew through the BCA caps for 2012 by adding spending in other areas, such as disaster, without offsets.” A spending limit is only as good as the political will to keep to it.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) updated figures this week estimating this year’s deficit will be even higher, at $1.2 trillion. “Congress needs to focus on the entitlement spending and not get stuck in the minutiae,” Mr. Knudsen said. “CBO’s projections show spending at unprecedented and permanent levels at about one-fourth the entire economy, almost entirely because of uncontrolled spending in government health care and retirement programs.”

Instead of getting into a government shutdown fight with Mr. Reid over what amounts to less than two days of Uncle Sam’s spending, House Republicans need to push for reduced outlays in a plan to balance the budget in less than a generation.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.