By Erik Wasson
Ryan, under the rules package adopted at the beginning of January, was given the rare power to unilaterally set the 2011 spending ceilings. He said the powers were not dictatorial and were necessary because Congress failed to pass a budget resolution last year for the first time since 1974.
The ceilings, called for in 302(a) of the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, set the maximum amount that the House Appropriations Committee can spend in a fiscal year. Normally the ceilings are in the concurrent budget resolution passed by both houses of Congress.
Last week, the House voted to instruct Ryan to bring 2011 non-security discretionary spending down to 2008 levels “or less.” The cuts will not affect entitlement programs, defense, homeland security, military construction or Veterans Affairs, the GOP has said. All but 17 Democrats voted against the instructing resolution, arguing that it was a gimmick since it did not contain any numbers.
The Congressional Budget Office has informally estimated that the cuts would total $82 billion off of current funding. Ryan has put the figure around $60 billion. The government is funded at roughly 2010 levels under a continuing resolution passed in December.
Once the Ryan numbers are published, the next step will be for appropriators to complete their work on a continuing resolution funding the government after March 4. The conservative Republican Study Committee is seeking a cut of $100 billion from current levels and may fight for its cuts through a floor amendment to the CR.
A wrinkle to all of this is the desire by defense appropriators to pass a full Defense appropriations bill. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has argued that operating on 2010 levels under the CR is imperiling national defense. The current CR represents a $23 billion cut for the Pentagon if it is extended until Sept. 30.
The new CR is to be brought to the floor the week of Feb. 14 and may be packaged with a full defense appropriations bill.
House and Senate must agree on a CR by March 4 to avoid a government shutdown, unless a short-term CR is passed to extend negotiations.