Republicans Promise $100 Billion in Spending Cuts
Washington (AP) - Piling cuts on top of cuts, House Republican leaders outlined an additional $26 billion in spending reductions on Thursday in hopes of placating conservatives who rejected an initial draft as too timid.
Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., in charge of drafting the legislation, said he had proposed "deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government."
No details were immediately available, but the move would cut current spending in hundreds of federal programs by about $60 billion, resulting in levels in effect in 2008.
By Republican reckoning, the new measure would reduce spending by $100 billion below Obama's request for the current fiscal year, a number they had promised to meet in the "Pledge to America," their manifesto in the 2010 campaign. The actual cuts from current rates are less because the $100 billion promise assumes Obama budget increases that were never enacted.
Rogers, R-Ky., had warned only Wednesday that such cuts could lead to layoffs of FBI agents and harm to the nation's air traffic control system. He also warned of cuts to health research, special education and Pell Grants for low-income college students.
Thursday's announcement caps a long struggle among Republicans over what they meant exactly when promising to cut $100 billion last year in their Pledge to America. At the center of the debate has been the fact that the budget year began Oct. 1 and the government has been spending money at last year's levels since then. A stopgap government funding bill expires March 4.
That makes it much harder to keep the promise since it squeezes a year's worth of cuts into seven months. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had earlier promised to spread the cuts over a calendar year, with the upcoming spending bill making a significant down payment in advance of another round of cuts as Congress hashes out next year's appropriations bills.
"We will meet our pledge to America," Boehner said, adding that the upcoming legislation will "send a signal that we're serious about cutting spending here in Washington."
But rank-and-file Republicans, many of whom have little hands-on knowledge of the budget and the impact the cuts will have on programs popular with their constituents, insisted on keeping the $100 billion promise, forcing Boehner and the appropriations panel to go back to the drawing board.
"It's important to do what we said we were going to do," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Boehner met with GOP freshmen Thursday afternoon to sell the plan, which Republicans expect to unveil Friday afternoon.
The new plan will build upon a partial roster of cuts released Wednesday that targeted school aid, the Environmental Protection Agency and would kill off a high-speed rail program that Obama wants to significantly expand.
Republicans also promise to end federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, family planning services and AmeriCorps.
The new promise means closer scrutiny of the Pentagon, Homeland Security and possibly even veterans' accounts that Republicans had hoped to hold harmless.
And it means that the FBI won't get the 4 percent increase Republicans had hoped to give it, while health research might bear a cut instead of being frozen at $31 billion.
Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, a Boehner confidante with responsibility for drafting the transportation and housing budgets from his perch on the Appropriations Committee, promised that a housing program that provides rent subsidies for the poor would continue to provide rental vouchers.
Latham worries, however, that House passage of the new, tougher version of the measure could spark a prolonged deadlock with the Senate and lead to a series of short-term spending bills that would continue to fund the government at current levels. Passing a measure with smaller cuts might have a better chance at becoming law.
"My concern is that we may be missing a real opportunity to actually enact cuts that could have been put in place and that we're going to end up with a (stopgap measure) that just continues level funding," Latham said.