In another victory for tea party rebels in Congress Thursday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., scrapped his original plan for spending cuts and announced that he will seek to cut $100 billion from what President Obama had requested for this fiscal year.
"My committee has been working diligently to go line-by-line in every agency budget to find and cut unnecessary spending to reduce our deficit and help our economy thrive," Rogers said in a statement. "We have determined that the [continuing resolution] can and will reach a total of $100 billion in cuts compared to the president's request immediately-fully meeting the goal outlined in the Republican 'Pledge to America' in one fell swoop."
Rogers didn't say what those cuts might be, a clear sign that House GOP leaders had been caught by surprise, which left appropriators scrambling to figure out how they would assuage their tea party critics on the right.
Late last night, GOP leaders added an additional $26 billion in nonsecurity cuts. So now there are $84 billion in non-discretionary cuts. There were previously $58 billion.
The rebellion began on Tuesday, when two Appropriations Republicans voted against a bill in committee that set overall spending caps in line with what House GOP leaders had been planning.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a new member of the committee, ridiculed Rogers' spending caps and declared that it was too early to "award ourselves the 'Profiles in Courage Award.' " He and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., joined Democrats in voting against the caps.
The GOP troubles came to a head Wednesday morning, when Rogers gave a presentation on his bill to the House Republican Conference. Several members of the party's right wing, including tea party freshmen looking to lay down a conservative marker, objected and demanded that the appropriators come up with a full $100 billion in reductions.
On Thursday, Rogers said he would and could go the full distance outlined in the "Pledge to America."
"Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned," he said. "I have instructed my subcommittee chairs to include these deeper cuts, and we are continuing to work to complete this critical legislation," Rogers said.
The House GOP measure is designed to replace the current stopgap spending bill, which expires on March 4. The House Appropriations Committee had intended to unveil its spending bill Thursday. To gin up excitement, Rogers unveiled a tantalizing partial list of 70 proposed cuts to agencies ranging from NASA and the IRS to the Environmental Protection Agency.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Rogers would have to postpone his full list of cuts for another day, or possibly until next week. But there was no doubt that he had been caught by surprise by his party's conservative wing.
Despite the change in plan, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on Thursday that he still intends to have the House vote on the entire spending bill next week.
"Next week we'll bring to the floor a continuing resolution that contains the largest discretionary spending cut in the history of our country," Boehner said.
"We will meet our 'Pledge to America,' " he said. "This resolution will be marked not for what it continues, but for what it ends-that is Washington's spending binge."
The initial House Republican plan capped total discretionary spending at $1.055 trillion, which is $73.6 billion less than Obama's request for fiscal 2011. In practice, the real cuts would be about half that much because Congress never enacted the increases that Obama had requested. Measured against actual current spending, the cuts would add up to about $35 billion this year.
A budget $100 billion below the president's request could be enough to bring nonsecurity discretionary spending back to the levels of fiscal 2008, before the Democratic-drafted economic stimulus bill was enacted.
Conservative activists at the Heritage Foundation's Heritage Action were not too impressed with Rogers's announcement.
The group said on its blog that it wants all of the $100 billion in cuts to come from nonsecurity discretionary spending. Under the current plan only $58 billion comes from that type of spending and about $16 billion in cuts comes from security spending.
"Chairman Rogers's release does not specify the security/nonsecurity breakdown, meaning his proposal will likely include the original $16 billion in cuts to security spending," the post said. "Conservatives are making progress; however, House Republicans are still $16 billion shy of their pledge."