All signs point toward House Republicans unveiling a budget early next week with spending cuts that go far deeper than those set forth in the Budget Control Act.
The only question now is: How deep will they go, and which programs and people will bear the brunt?
It’s an issue that House Republicans, leadership, and conservative groups are trying to sort out during an otherwise quiet recess week in Washington, as they toggle between topline numbers as varied as $1.047 trillion from the Budget Control Act; $931 billion, a figure favored by the more conservative faction in the party; and a compromise figure of $1.028 trillion.
Still, pushing the boundaries of spending cuts has always been part of the game plan for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as is putting Democrats on the defensive. Ryan views this year’s budget as a huge opportunity to show voters the stark differences between the Republican and Democratic agendas. “We’re not going backwards from where we were,” he recently told National Journal. “We’re going to advance things, meaning a solution for the country’s fiscal problems.”
Democrats are just as eager to paint a portrait of their differences. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already rolled out cheeky mailings, like a fake movie poster with a headline warning that Republicans are coming back for a “sequel” to end Medicare.
House Democrats are equally loathe to let Ryan take up all of the budget spotlight, and plan to introduce their own version of the budget that hews closely to the framework introduced by the president. They’ll release it this spring, around the same time as the House debates Ryan’s plan.
Of course, neither budget, along with President Obama’s own proposal, is expected to get any political traction during this election year. Instead, these budget plans lay down philosophical markers as to where both parties (and the factions within those parties) stand on fiscal and economic issues.
That’s really the point of these exercises: to set the boundaries before the lame-duck session, when Congress will be forced to cut deals on trillions of dollars of expiring tax provisions, including the Bush-era tax cuts, as well as the impending across-the-board cuts mandated by sequestration and scheduled to take effect in January.
House Republicans are expected to unveil their budget early next week, once the party can agree on a topline figure. Ryan’s office has already scheduled something of a budget sales tour, beginning with a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday.
The office of House Speaker John Boehner has signaled that it backs Ryan in favoring spending cuts more severe than those laid out in the Budget Control Act. On the speaker’s website, Republican staffers wrote: “Spending less not only satisfies the agreement struck last summer, but means we’re borrowing less from places like China.”
That rhetoric sounds catchy, and it certainly stokes voters’ economic fears of China’s competitiveness while trying to cast Republicans as the reigning deficit hawks on the Hill. It will be interesting to watch next week what they cut, what they choose to leave alone, and the gap between defense funding and discretionary spending.
This article appears in the March 15, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.