A proposed House rule granting new powers to the GOP chairman of the Budget Committee has sparked outrage from Democrats.
The proposed rule would allow the Budget Committee chairman to set spending ceilings for 2011 without a vote by the full House. By approving the rules package, the House would give authority to the new Budget panel chairman to set budget ceilings at a later time and his decision would not be subject to an up-or-down vote on the floor.
In practice, this would give power to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the incoming chairman of the panel, to impose deep spending cuts since spending bills cannot exceed the budget ceiling for the 2011 fiscal year.
The House is set to vote on the rule soon after it convenes on Jan. 5.
Democrats argue the provision would give unilateral power to Ryan and flies in the face of GOP promises of transparency.
"Allowing incoming Chairman Ryan to have unilateral power to set spending limits — instead of subjecting those limits to a vote on the floor of the House — flies in the face of promises by House Republicans to have the most transparent and honest Congress in history,” said Doug Thornell, spokesman for incoming House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), in an e-mailed statement.
“Unfortunately, the House GOP is reverting back to the same arrogant governing style they implemented when they last held the majority and turned a surplus into a huge deficit," he added.
Drew Hammill, spokesman for incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), also criticized the rule change. He said the decision to cede power to Ryan "runs counter to the Republicans’ promises of transparency and accountability.”
Republicans argue allowing the Budget chairman to set spending ceilings is necessary because of the failure of the last Congress to approve a budget last year.
“This provision is only necessary because of Democrats’ historic failure to pass a budget last year. They have nothing but their own ineptitude to blame for this temporary authority,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the House Republican transition, said in response to the Van Hollen statement.
Another House aide argued the powers are not unprecedented. The GOP gave the chairman of the House similar powers in the opening days of the 1999 Congress, when the GOP also controlled the chamber.
The federal government is only funded through March 4 under the terms of a continuing resolution passed Dec. 21. Incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has called for a return to 2008 spending levels.
Under the rule change, the House Appropriations Committee under Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) would be required to craft 12 appropriations bills for the rest of 2011 or another continuing resolution at the level of spending determined by Ryan. Spending above the ceilings would be subject to a point of order on the House floor.
Hammill also criticized Republicans for giving spending authority to Ryan, who he said supported “Social Security privatization and the voucherization of Medicare.” Democrats have frequently criticized Ryan's budget proposals, though President Obama has also described them as a "serious proposal" worth of debate.
Ryan in January 2010 released “A Roadmap for America’s Future” that called for allowing workers currently under 55 years old to invest one third of current Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts that can be passed onto their heirs.
Ryan's blueprint also would create a Medicare payment currently under 55 it would create a Medicare payment, averaging $11,000 per year, to allow individuals to buy insurance coverage.
Both proposals would reduce the budget deficit by implementing reforms to hold down the cost of entitlement programs. But opponents say allowing individuals to invest Social Security taxes in private accounts is too risky. Critics also argue that the Medicare vouchers would contribute to rising health care costs, since the government would no longer have the same bargaining power to lower fees that the single payer Medicare system now enjoys. As costs rise, the voucher would soon be insufficient to buy adequate insurance.
Other elements of the House rules proposals have stirred criticism since the package was released on Dec. 22. These include replacing pay-as-you-go rules with a “cut-go” scheme that eliminates the need to offset the cost of tax cuts.
Cut-go only applies to entitlement increases and requires that such increases be offset by spending cuts alone. Tax increases to pay for them would be forbidden.
“The Republican rules package is a clear statement of their values: rigging the rules so they can continue to pursue tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations who ship American jobs overseas," Hammill said.
The rules package also requires that appropriations bills contain spending lockbox accounts into which any savings from spending cuts can be placed. It is up to individual members proposing the cut to decide whether to place the savings in the special account, leading sources to question the effectiveness of the rule.
—This story was first posted at 10:59 a.m. and most recently updated at 5:23 p.m.