House Republicans are proposing to slash $74 billion in discretionary spending this year, and have included a surprise cut of $16 billion for defense and other security programs. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is expected to file a budget resolution Tuesday using unilateral powers granted to him by new House rules. Under those rules, his overall budget numbers will amount to marching orders for the House Appropriations Committee, which will have to decide on the specific cuts.
If they pass the full Congress, the cuts would be largest one-year reductions in decades. But they fall short of the House Republicans' campaign promise to roll back non-security discretionary spending to 2008 levels, or the $100 billion in cuts for this year alone.
Members of the conservative House Republican Study Committee had pleaded with House leader to stick to the original goal, even though the current fiscal year will be almost half finished by the time the current stopgap spending bill expires on March 4.
But the big surprise was Ryan's decision to included security programs on the chopping block. Thus far, House Republicans have talked almost entirely in terms of cuts to non-security discretionary spending, and shielded defense and homeland security.
It wasn't clear where Republicans hope to cut security spending, because the Budget Committee only sets overall limits. The cuts would not affect combat operations in Afghanistan or Iraq. it is possible that the cuts would simply reflect budget cuts along the lines that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has proposed, though some GOP lawmakers have complained about his proposals as well.
Asked why they did not meet their $100 billion target directly, Republican staffers criticized Democrats for failing to produce a budget last year and for proposing a continuing spending resolution that will be in effect only until March 4 -- though Republicans opposed a longer extension to the temporary spending deal.
Republican aides argued that their spending plan meets their goal because, if passed, the rate of spending for the balance of the 2011 fiscal year will be reduced to 2008 levels. On an annualized basis, the cuts would amount to about a 20 percent reduction in spending. Aides called that that approach the "fairest way, without changing baselines or changing goals."
Republican staffers were still unable to point to specific programs they wished to cut, saying that duty falls to the Appropriations committee, one noted that Defense Secretary William Gates has proposed sensible budget cuts in security spending. Asked where the hurt of budget cuts would fall, another Republican aide mentioned the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Folks that will be hurt are government bureaucracies that have grown," the staffer said. "The notion that this is the extent of our appetite for spending cuts is demonstrably false."
GOP aides expect to move a spending bill to the floor by February 14 and begin an open amendments process that could result in further cuts, with the hopes of reaching agreement with the Senate before the current spending measure expires on March 4. Experts and Congressional staffers believe Congress will not move fast enough to avoid a government shutdown without another short-term spending deal.