House GOP leaders say caucus 'uniting' around plan

GOP House leaders expressed optimism Thursday night that their conference was united behind a plan to cut $100 billion from 2011 government spending but some lawmakers remained skeptical.

Thursday evening’s closed-door meeting of the entire House GOP was the second such gathering that day to discuss cuts to be included in the continuing resolution that will fund the government through the end of 2011, set to be released on Friday.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said after the conference meeting that the caucus was "uniting" around a plan to cut $100 billion, the largest cut since World War II.

He dodged the question when asked if everyone is fully on board.

But a chief critic of the proposal that includes $16 billion in defense cuts, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), told The Hill that he wasn’t satisfied yet.

Flake said that "we're on the right track" but that it's still a "work in progress."

GOP leaders acknowledged that the cut includes security spending, something that will trigger floor amendments from more conservative members next week. They are also measuring the cut compared to the Obama 2011 budget request that was never enacted.

"What we heard here was a commitment to the $100 billion reduction number. That is what we said we were going to do and that's what we are going to do," Cantor said.

A number of conservative lawmakers spent the day fighting back that provision – insisting that the $100 billion number should not include defense cuts.

More than 20 lawmakers rose to voice their concerns over the plan formulated by leadership to make good on a promise to return spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bank bailout levels in 2008, a source in the packed room told The Hill.

Defense appropriations subcommittee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) seeked to reassure his colleagues that the major cuts in defense will not have an adverse effect on the war fighters.

“I went into contracts, programs that had been delayed or for some reason on hold that don’t need the money now, I found a few slush funds that I was able to reduce,” Young told The Hill following the 90-minute meeting.

Young said that concerned members of the conference did not ask for the details of those cuts rather, expressed “their concerns about any defense cuts.”

A different participant revealed to The Hill that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pledged to make good on a promise to cut $100 billion from the annual discretionary spending this year. He said that when the measure comes up on the House floor, likely next week, that the number may be greater than $100 billion.

House GOP Policy Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) told The Hill, “I think there are some appropriate concerns and understandable concerns about some areas of reductions but when you compare to where we’ve been, when you recognize that it’s simply getting back to ’08 levels, then it’s hard to argue with.”