Loud opposition unlikely to scuttle budget deal
Staffers with the House and Senate Appropriations committees worked through the weekend and Monday to finalize details of the spending cuts that will be included in the six-month spending bill that negotiators agreed to on Friday.
The deal will cut $38.5 billion from current spending levels, slicing $6.8 billion from labor, health, and education programs, as well as a host of other programs funded by mandatory spending, according to a list of the cuts obtained by National Journal Daily.
Programs funded by mandatory spending receive their funds automatically without the year-to-year input of appropriators.
During negotiations, Democrats pushed for cuts to mandatory spending to protect programs funded every year by Congress.
Democrats managed to win almost $18 billion in mandatory cuts. That marked a victory for them that made the $38 billion package significantly different than one Republicans would have offered on their own, and less damaging to economic growth, Democrats claim. The changes in mandatory programs, also known as "CHIMPS," make the deal more palatable to Democratic lawmakers, Democratic senators have argued.
During negotiations, Republicans argued that CHIMPS were a "smoke and mirrors" effort by Democrats to put off having to make hard choices on discretionary spending cuts, which would lower the spending baseline for years to come.
The $6.8 billion in labor, health, and education programs include $3.5 billion from performance bonuses paid to states for enrolling uninsured children in Medicaid under the 2009 Children's Health Insurance Program reauthorization.
Another $2.5 billion would come from funds for health care cooperatives. Cutting Pell grants during the summer would save $493 million.
Reductions to programs within the departments of Commerce and Justice would save $5.6 billion, including $4.9 billion from DOJ's crime victims' fund, $495 million from the DOJ's assets forfeiture fund, and $68 million from a Commerce program to promote and develop fisheries transfers.
Cuts to Transportation and Housing and Urban Development programs would provide a total of $3.2 billion in savings, which come from $2.5 billion from transportation earmarks and $630 million from highway funding.
Agriculture programs took a $1.5 billion haircut, including $350 million from the environmental quality incentives program, $207 million from rural economic development grants, and $176 million from the wetlands reserve program.
The crop insurance rebate program was cut by $35 million and the food stamps, employment, and training programs were reduced by $15 million.
The Treasury Department's forfeiture fund was cut by $400 million, while $89 million would be cut from Interior and Environment accounts, including $42 million from the mineral leasing and associated payments, and $30 million from National Park Service land acquisition and state assistance.
The Senate will vote after the House's scheduled Wednesday vote. With little more than a day to vote before the current CR expires, the Senate will likely need a consent deal to schedule the vote. That means any one senator could scuttle the deal. The cloture process would take several days, meaning another potential shutdown would loom.
But Senate leadership aides in both parties said that while some senators will vote against the deal, leaders do not anticipate filibuster efforts that will delay a vote.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said on Monday that he will "vote a resounding 'no' this week to this so-called deal."
"This discussion is simply not credible or serious, and unfortunately, it has not been from the beginning, as the House leadership has made clear," Paul wrote in a letter to colleagues on Monday.
"I prefer to be on the other side," he said. "The side of the people who sent us here to Washington to do something. To cut spending. To save our economy. To move toward a balanced budget."
Paul, however, did not threaten to slow action on the bill.
In addition to Paul, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; and James Risch, R-Idaho, are among potential "no" votes. In a voice-vote early Saturday on approval of the six-day "bridge" bill, Risch, who expressed support for policy riders excluded from the six-month-bill, shouted a "no" vote, the only lawmaker to do so.
A Republican leadership aide who requested anonymity to discuss conference politics said slowing down the process would give opponents "the wrong kind of attention. You would be the one guy who is shutting down government."
The compromise came after intense negotiations among House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President Obama.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., outlined his support for the compromise in a speech on Friday night. His support, coupled with Reid's, nearly ensures the bill will gain 60 votes in the Senate.
The deal amounts to about a $78 billion cut from Obama's fiscal 2011 budget proposal, and some conservatives have said that they are disappointed with the deal because it falls short of a campaign promise most House GOP members made to cut $100 billion from Obama's fiscal 2011 request. Still, the leadership line was that this was the best deal the GOP was going to get.
"Republicans fought for-and won-substantial, real savings, both mandatory and discretionary, from the Democrats who run Washington-who initially proposed a 'freeze' and labeled any cuts at all 'extreme,' " said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner. "Did we want more cuts to help our economy create jobs? Of course."
Speaking on Fox News on Monday, Boehner said that "This isn't perfect. It isn't everything I wanted, by a long shot."
But he added that "it was the first big step forward … The first step in what is going to be a lot of steps if we are going to fix our fiscal crisis in Washington."
He said he expects to get some of the votes of conservatives in his conference, but "others we won't." The bill may need some Democratic votes to reach the 218 needed to pass. But it is not clear if GOP leadership will lose a major chunk of their conference. Only 28 of the 241 House Republican members voted against the six-day bridge bill early on Saturday morning.