By Erik Wasson
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said that the GOP is engaged in internal discussions over how to approach spending and the vote later this spring to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit, but he is confident the party will come to unified positions.
“I am convinced we are all on the same page," he said in a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview to be broadcast Sunday and taped Friday.
He said that the debate has been “free flowing” and said that he believes the enthusiasm of the freshmen on reforming entitlements like Social Security will help the Congress tackle reforming them.
GOP leadership is trying to convince freshmen to vote for the debt ceiling increase but tie that vote to “dramatic” spending cuts. Failing to vote for the increase could lead the Treasury to default on bond interest payments. Dreier supports the leadership approach and said he is convinced the GOP will be able to get spending cuts enacted.
It will also have to get traditional appropriators on board with deep cuts, something Dreier indicated is not always easy. He noted that he had just met with the mayor of Los Angeles who was seeking transportation funding. Dreier said he understands infrastructure is important, but so is cutting spending.
Dreier said that he has been wary that the incoming GOP freshmen, many of whom have vowed not to raise the debt ceiling and are calling for very high levels of cuts to federal spending, were too radical.
“There was a sense that these people were crazy, based on what was reported in the media,” he said, adding that he had “cringed” when he heard some press reports. He said that upon meeting the freshmen he learned that in fact they are very reasonable and their so-called extremism was media hype.
Dreier in the interview acknowledged that a vote the GOP has scheduled hours before Tuesday's State of the Union address is a symbolic one that will function to set a marker in negotiations with the Democratic Senate and White House this year on spending.
Tuesday's resolution calls on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to set spending levels for fiscal 2011 at 2008 levels or less. Ryan has estimated that this will be a $60 billion cut from the 2010 levels the government is operating under now under the terms of the continuing resolution in effect until March 4. Republican Study Committee members are circulating a dear colleague letter calling on the cuts to be at least $100 billion compared to the CR.
Dreier said that he hopes some Democrats will join the GOP in voting for the resolution on Tuesday. Indeed the vote could be tough one for Democratic deficit hawks who are also trying to claim that mantle of fiscal responsibility. So far, Democrats appear to be settling on a strategy of opposing the resolution on the procedural grounds that it does not contain dollar figures and gives too much power to Ryan.
Dreier also said he is not sure whether another short term CR will be necessary in March if talks on spending drag on. If no new appropriations bill such as a CR is passed by March 4, the government will shut down. The last such shutdown in 1996 served to bolster President Clinton's popularity when he was able to pin the blame on congressional Republicans.
Dreier argued that cutting spending creates jobs and said the Republican focus this week on healthcare also part of a job-creating agenda.
He also used the interview to push for the submission of all three pending trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama to the Congress for approval. The Obama administration has said it wants approval of the largest, the South Korea deal, by mid-2011 but has given no timeline for the other agreements. Labor unions oppose all three deals which have languished since 2007. Colombia has a reputation for allowing its labor leaders to be murdered with impunity, while Panama has been derided as a corporate tax haven.