Tight calendar for 112th limits GOP’s options on spending cuts

The legislative schedule established by House Republicans for their new majority will make it all but impossible for the GOP to pass separate appropriations bills for fiscal 2011, congressional aides said Tuesday.

The continuing resolution to fund the government runs out on March 4, leaving House Republicans with a shrinking number of days to identify cuts and pass a bill before the stopgap measure expires.

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The tight timeline means that the option of 12 appropriations bills, which would maximize the ability of the GOP to go after programs it considers wasteful, is all but off the table, according to aides on both sides of the aisle.

During the course of the next 43 possible legislative days leading up to March 4, the House is in session for 23 days and away from Washington for 20, according to the schedule released by House Republicans.

Notably, House lawmakers are in session for only nine days in February and three days in March, which is when the bulk of the work on a 2011 spending bill would likely happen. Lawmakers also are scheduled to be out of session on March 4, the day the funding resolution expires. 

Incoming House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) acknowledged after a committee organizing meeting on Tuesday that it is unlikely the GOP will be able to put together 12 appropriations bills for 2011.

Asked how the committee can complete work on 12 bills in so few days, Rogers said, “We’ll do a CR … but frankly that hasn’t been decided yet.”

“I don’t see how it is all going to get done,” one aide said of the work that lies ahead. “I think a CR combined with a rescission package is the most likely option.”

Simply extending the current CR, which holds spending at roughly fiscal 2010 levels, is an unsavory option for Republicans, since they’ll need the support of their own members — many elected on a platform of cutting government spending — to pass it.

Those 87 Republican freshmen may be willing to let the government shut down to show they are serious about reducing spending.

The GOP also decried the attempt by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pass an omnibus appropriations bill during the lame-duck and has sworn off using an omnibus approach going forward.

This leaves the House Appropriations Committee two choices: pass 12 individual appropriations bills governing all aspects of federal funding, or pass a CR with a lower overall spending ceiling and a limited list of targeted spending cuts and rescissions of previously approved spending.

A rescission bill would go after items such as the estimated $12 billion in unspent stimulus money.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is expected on Wednesday to be empowered to set the overall spending ceiling for the 2011 appropriations unilaterally. He said on New Year’s Eve he will use that power to force a return to 2008 spending levels, which the GOP says will save $100 billion.

A CR with $100 billion knocked out of it will essentially hand the Obama administration the task of deciding where the cuts are to come from.

Adding pressure to the deadline, Senate Democrats who still control the upper chamber aren’t likely to agree to clawing back spending in the 2009 economic stimulus bill or larger cuts to the CR without a thorough inspection of what’s on the list of spending cuts.

Rogers said the plan to complete multiple appropriations bills for fiscal 2012 is still in effect.

In September, incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) publicly called for the 12 annual appropriations bills to be broken up even further, into individual bills for each agency. It is unclear if that approach will be adopted for the 2012 bills at this point.