Dems mull discretionary spending cuts

House Democrats will seek to cut next year’s discretionary spending to levels below those proposed by President Barack Obama.

The question is: How deep will those cuts be?

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that Democrats will forgo a traditional budget resolution for 2011 and instead offer a “budget enforcement resolution” that would set discretionary spending levels for next year. Those levels would cut spending unrelated to security, going beyond the freeze proposed by Obama, Hoyer said.

One option would cut non-security discretionary spending by 2 percent for each of the next three years and freeze that spending for the following two years. The fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats championing that cut said it would save more than $400 billion over the next decade, which would be more than the $250 billion that would be saved by Obama’s three-year freeze.

Hoyer said Democrats are “close” on setting the spending levels but have yet to make a final decision on them.

Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), the Blue Dog Coalition’s co-chairman for policy, said he was “confident” the new budget plan would reflect the 2 percent proposal, at least for 2011.

Liberals might have misgivings about any plan that significantly reduces spending while the economy is still recovering.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said support for serious discretionary spending cuts would depend on which programs would be slashed.

“What would not be prudent at this time would be to pinch off the recovery in its early stages when unemployment is so high in states like Rhode Island,” Whitehouse said.

The jobless rate in Rhode Island was 12.3 percent last month, above the national 9.7 percent rate.

Senate Democrats have yet to decide how they will move forward on spending levels for next year, which apply to the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund government programs. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) spoke to his Democratic colleagues about next year’s budget during a closed-door meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Conrad had hoped to bring a budget proposal he drafted and passed out of his committee with spending levels slightly below those proposed by the White House to the floor this month.

“Obviously, with the House not doing one, that’s much less likely,” he said.

Conrad told The Hill it was possible to cut spending even below the levels in his budget draft. 

Republicans blasted House Democrats’ for failing to even offer a full-fledged budget for 2011.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Democrats will continue to spend taxpayers’ money without any discipline or a plan to deal with the growing $13 trillion debt.

“Every American family also knows what Washington Democrats can’t seem to grasp: In tough times it’s more important — not less — to have a budget, to set priorities and to live within your means,” Boehner said in a statement.

While Congress has failed four times previously to pass a final budget resolution, the House has always been able to at least pass its version of the budget since the current budget rules were put in place in 1974.

Unlike a full budget, the Democrats’ budget alternative won’t lay out the majority’s fiscal policies beyond the coming year.

Hoyer said it isn’t possible to pass a “realistic, long-term budget” until the fiscal commission created by Obama is given time to produce a bipartisan plan. The White House panel plans to offer its proposals on tax, spending and entitlement policies in December, and House and Senate leaders have pledged to bring them up for floor votes.

“This budget enforcement resolution will enforce fiscal discipline in the near term while the fiscal commission works on a long-term plan to get our country back to fiscal health,” Hoyer said.