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.
Because House appropriators have the authority to set specific limits for all categories of discretionary spending, they could choose to ignore Ryan's call to allocate some of the cuts to security programs.
Alternatively, the security cuts could simply hit programs that Defense Secretary Roberts Gates has already targeted for cancellation, such as the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle produced by General Dynamics and the Army's surface-launched advanced medium-range air-to-air missile developed by Raytheon. Gates has also put the Marine Corps' troubled version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a Lockheed Martin program, on a two-year probation thatfree up cash this fiscal year.
Overall, the proposed cuts would be the 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.
Indeed, the proposed cuts are smaller than they first appear, because they are based on President Obama's budget proposal for 2011 -- which was never enacted. Compared with 2010, the proposal would cut total discretionary spending by only $35 billion.
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.
The cuts would not affect combat operations in Afghanistan or Iraq, but it isn't clear what other parts of defense or homeland security spending lawmakers do want to cut.
Republican aides argued that their spending plan meets the spirit of the $100 billion promise because, if it passes, the rate of spending for the balance of the 2011 fiscal year would 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.”
The cuts would fall heavily across scores of agencies and programs, from NASA and the FBI to the Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service.
“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.
But some experts and congressional staffers predict that Congress won't move that fast and that lawmakers will have to pass another short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.