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House Republicans seek $30b cut at agencies

Congress must pass new plan for spending

‘Washington’s spending spree is over,’ said Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, who sets spending limits. ‘Washington’s spending spree is over,’ said Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, who sets spending limits.
By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post / February 4, 2011

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WASHINGTON — House Republicans want to slice more than $30 billion from agency budgets over the next several months, aiming to make good on their campaign pledge to return federal spending to 2008 levels.

The figure represents a sharp reduction from President Obama’s most recent budget request, and Democrats have dismissed the proposal as Draconian, arguing that cuts of that magnitude would harm critical government services.

Conservative Republicans, meanwhile, are demanding even bigger cuts, and are unlikely to be satisfied by the GOP spending plan released yesterday. House leaders vowed to press ahead nonetheless and to put a spending bill on the floor when lawmakers return to Washington on Feb. 14.

“Washington’s spending spree is over,’’ House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “As House Republicans pledged — and voted to affirm on the House floor last week — the spending limits will restore sanity to a broken budget process and return spending for domestic government agencies to prestimulus, prebailout levels.’’

Under rules adopted by the new GOP majority, Ryan has unilateral authority to set spending limits for the remainder of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30. Though Obama submitted a budget request for fiscal 2011, Congress never adopted a spending blueprint, and the government is operating under a temporary resolution that expires March 4.

House Republicans are working on a new resolution to fund the government for the final seven months of the year. Leadership aides said they hope to push the new measure through the House and the Senate before the existing resolution expires. But the Senate remains under the control of Democrats, who are unlikely to accede to House demands on spending. If the two chambers cannot agree on a new spending resolution, lawmakers risk triggering a government shutdown.

As budget chairman, Ryan sets spending limits but does not decide where to cut. That task falls to the House Appropriations Committee. That committee’s chairman, Hal Rogers of Kentucky, released spending targets, with the heaviest cuts hitting transportation and housing, agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration, commerce, justice, science and financial services. Those cuts would be up to 17 percent over current levels.

Labor, health, and education programs, meanwhile, would face a 4 percent reduction, as would state and foreign operations. The Pentagon would see a 2 percent reduction compared with Obama’s request, but a 2 percent increase over the current rate of spending.

The spending plan “will respond to the millions of Americans who have called on this Congress to rein in spending and help our economy grow and our businesses create jobs,’’ Rogers said in a statement. “It is my intention, and that of my committee, to craft a responsible, judicious budget that will significantly reduce government spending, begin to get our nation’s finances in order so that the economy can thrive, and provide essential resources for our national security.’’

During the midterm campaign, Republicans pledged to return spending on domestic programs to 2008 levels — before Obama took office and pressed successfully for a massive stimulus package to boost economic activity. At the time, GOP leaders said that would mean cutting $100 billion from the president’s request for fiscal 2011.

Because Obama’s request was never enacted, however, actual spending has been lower than what he proposed. Ryan and other Republican leaders argue that, with five months of the fiscal year already gone, they will have to prorate the cuts to apply only to the final seven months of the year.

As a result, Ryan is proposing to cap total appropriations at $1.05 trillion for fiscal 2011 — $74 billion less than Obama’s request but $32 billion less than the current level of spending. Those numbers include a slight increase in spending at agencies related to national security, including the Pentagon and the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

Hence the reduction at domestic agencies would be even deeper — in excess of $40 billion, Ryan said.

That figure falls far short of the $100 billion in reductions being demanded by the conservative Republican Study Committee.

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