Spending cuts plan too drastic for Dems, falls short for GOP
WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders on Wednesday unveiled a wide swath of spending cuts but fell short of GOP promises to slice $100 billion, creating a political challenge for House Speaker John Boehner as he struggles to unite his majority in advance of next week’s vote.
Conservative lawmakers, including many tea party-inspired newcomers, see the leadership proposal as inadequate, despite substantial hits to longtime GOP targets including the Environmental Protection Agency, community policing and the arts.
“It’s not enough,” said freshman Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.
Already this week, Boehner struggled in trying to lead a diverse, emboldened GOP majority when a coalition of newcomers and veteran conservatives joined Democrats to block an extension of terror surveillance legislation, seen by many as an overreach of government authority.
In a politically polarized Congress, Democrats are unlikely to support the GOP’s proposed spending reductions, leaving Republican leaders to rely mainly on their divided caucus for passage.
Nevertheless, Boehner is pressing forward with plans for next week’s free-wheeling debate. The political exercise will touch off one of Washington’s biggest budget battles in years, coming as President Barack Obama releases his proposed 2012 fiscal plan Monday.
The cuts proposed Wednesday would affect the current year’s budget. Congress must approve a spending plan before the existing one expires March 4 or risk a government shutdown.
Democrats panned the proposed cuts.
“Maybe they think eliminating important government services is a worthwhile thing to do, but I don’t think that’s where the American people are,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Republicans won the House majority by campaigning against government spending, promising to rein in deficits and vowing to reduce the nation’s debt. Lawmakers risk retribution from conservative voters and tea party activists if they fail to deliver. Many conservatives want still more cuts.
“I’m not big on not keeping our word,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
Freshman Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said, “I think we should be working towards $100 billion, and we’re not quite there yet.”
In previewing the 70 proposed cuts, Rep. Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said more reductions would come when the full bill is unveiled today.
“Never before has Congress undertaken a task of this magnitude,” said Rogers, saying the cuts would touch every congressional district in the nation.
By positioning the cuts against Obama’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget, which was never enacted, the GOP claimed reductions of $74 billion.
But measured against the actual levels of spending, which in many cases are lower than in the budget proposed by the White House, the cuts amount to about $35 billion.
A number of the cuts target programs championed by Democrats as critical to the nation’s economic recovery.
Among the hardest hit would be already financially strapped cities and counties, with cuts nearly wiping out funds for hiring police under a Clinton-era community anti-crime program.
Funding also would be reduced to neighborhood improvements and social programs, such as those serving meals to seniors and paying for projects designed to prevent beach pollution.
One of the biggest hits would be to the Environmental Protection Agency, whose aggressive efforts under the Obama administration to regulate industry carbon emissions has been attacked by Republicans. The agency’s $10 billion budget would be slashed by $1.6 billion.
But other areas the GOP promotes as reductions actually represent no change from Obama’s 2011 plan and in some cases actually constitute spending increases. For example, Republicans targeted the FBI for a $74 million cut from Obama’s proposal, but the GOP plan would actually boost existing spending levels.