WASHINGTON – Confronted with a rebellion of tea party-backed conservatives insistent on deeper spending cuts, House Republicans are promising to cut more than $60 billion from the budget as they draft legislation funding the government through Sept. 30.
Thursday’s announcement by Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers comes just a day after he failed to sell a smaller package of cuts in a closed-door GOP meeting.
“Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned and allowing no agency or program to be held sacred,” Rogers said in a statement.
Driving the move is a promise made in last fall’s campaign to cut $100 billion from President Barack Obama’s proposals.
The Kentucky Republican had warned only Wednesday that such cuts could lead to layoffs of FBI agents and harm to the nation’s air traffic control system. He also warned of cuts to health research, special education and Pell Grants for low income college students. Rogers’ had earlier outlined a plan making $74 billion in cuts from Obama’s proposals.
The new version announced Thursday would produce actual savings more like $60 billion since Obama’s budget asked for sizable spending increases that were never enacted. The earlier GOP plan would have saved $35 billion, or about 3 percent from the agency operating budgets the Congress passes every year.
Thursday’s announcement caps a long struggle among Republicans over what they meant exactly when promising to cut $100 billion last year in their “Pledge to America” campaign document. At the center of the debate has been the fact that the budget year began Oct. 1 and the government has been spending money at last year’s levels since then. A stopgap government funding bill expires March 4.
That makes it much harder to keep the promise since it squeezes a year’s worth of cuts into a seven-month time frame. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had earlier promised to spread the cuts over a calendar year, with the upcoming spending bill making a significant down payment in advance of another round of cuts as Congress hashes out next year’s appropriations bills.
“We will meet our pledge to America,” Boehner said, adding that the upcoming legislation will “send a signal that we’re serious about cutting spending here in Washington.”
But rank-and-file Republicans, many of whom have little hands-on knowledge of the budget and the impact the cuts will have on programs popular with their constituents, insisted on keeping the $100 billion promise, forcing Boehner and the appropriations panel to go back to the drawing board.
“It’s important to do what we said we were going to do,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Early indications were that conservatives may still balk at the measure since it won’t outline $100 billion in cuts from domestic accounts and instead counts cuts to defense and homeland security toward meeting the goal.
Further details were so far unavailable, but they will build upon a partial roster of cuts released Wednesday that targeted school aid, the Environmental Protection Agency and proposed killing off a high-speed rail program that Obama wants to significantly expand.
Republicans also promise to end federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, family planning services and AmeriCorps.
The new promise means closer scrutiny of the Pentagon, Homeland Security and possibly even veterans’ accounts that Republicans had hoped to hold harmless.
And it means that the FBI won’t get the 4 percent increase Republicans had hoped to give it, while health research might bear a cut instead of being frozen at $31 billion.
Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, a Boehner confidante with responsibility for drafting the transportation and housing budgets from his perch on the Appropriations Committee, promised that a housing program that provides rent subsidies for the poor would continue to be able to provide rental vouchers for those eligible.
Latham worries, however, that House passage of the new, tougher version of the measure could spark a prolonged deadlock with the Senate that would lead to the government continuing to be funded at current levels under a series of short-term spending bills — rather than pass a measure with smaller cuts that might have a better chance.
“My concern is that we may be missing a real opportunity to actually enact cuts that could have been put in place and that we’re going to end up with a (stopgap measure) that just continues level funding,” Latham said.