Thursday's spending announcements from the House Budget and Appropriations committees finally answered the question of how much money Republicans want to cut from the budget. The problem? There is more than one answer, depending on where you start.
First, Republican leadership aides announced that Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would produce a budget resolution next week with $74 billion in cuts to discretionary spending, with $58 billion coming out of domestic discretionary programs and an unexpected $16 billion more coming out of defense and security spending.
But the cuts aren't cuts from what is being spent now. They are reductions from what President Obama proposed for fiscal year 2011 -- a request that was never approved by Congress.
A more accurate perspective on the cuts is to compare them to current spending, which rests at approximately 2010 levels. By that measure, laid out by the House Appropriations Committee, the defense budget would actually expand by $9.6 billion, or about 2 percent -- and that wouldn't include money for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. All told, the GOP would be cutting about $32 billion from both domestic and security spending-a reduction of 3 percent from 2010, with most of the cuts coming out of domestic programs.
Still, when the Associated Press reported the $32 billion figure, Ryan's staff fired back on Twitter: "Associated Press is wrong. House GOP plan would cut $74 billion from the Budget … and we're just getting started."
They have further to go if they want to meet their "Pledge to America," the campaign document House Republicans released last year. That document vows to "roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone" even after making "common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops." Republicans typically characterized this goal as reducing domestic discretionary spending to the levels of 2008.
Even if Republicans get their proposals through the Democratic-controlled Senate, they would still be $42 billion above that goal. This is largely because the temporary spending agreement, reached last year after Republican filibusters killed the Senate's omnibus appropriations bill, extends until March 4. That leaves only seven months for Republicans, now the majority in the House, to cut spending for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. Given that time constraint, the House GOP will attempt to match 2008's rate of spending in the remaining months, rather than striving to cut to 2008's overall spending level.
The House Republican Study Committee, a group of conservatives who have pledged to introduce floor amendments that will cut the full $100 billion from the budget, are also using the president's never-enacted request as their baseline. Compared to current spending, they want reductions of about $59 billion-a nearly $27 billion difference in real cuts between conservatives and Republican leadership in the House.