GOP offers $32 billion budget cut

House Republican leaders on Thursday said they would seek $32 billion in spending cuts from the resolution currently funding the government.

Republicans framed their proposal as cutting $74 billion from President Obama's 2011 budget request. However, because Obama’s budget was never approved by the last Congress, the cuts would actually be made against a continuing resolution now funding the government.

That resolution is to expire on March 4, and if lawmakers do not agree on another short-term measure or one funding the government for the rest of the year, they risk a government shutdown.

The GOP decision sets up a two-front battle with congressional Democrats and President Obama, who have warned that immediate spending cuts would damage the economy, and with conservative Tea Party-backed Republicans who want to make deeper cuts to spending.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected a $1.5 trillion deficit for the year. 

The proposed spending ceiling is less than the GOP pledge during the fall campaign to cut $100 billion in “non-security” discretionary funding.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) and other Republican leaders had already said their proposed cut would be less than that pledge. Aides said Thursday that the number is smaller because nearly half of the fiscal year is already over and the government is committing money at a faster rate in anticipation of coming cuts. They also argued their proposed cuts would reduce spending to 2008 levels for the final seven months of the fiscal year.

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The conservative House Republican Study Committee (RSC) is demanding a full $100 billion cut in non-security discretionary spending, and Republicans are trying to fend off internal criticism by offering conservative lawmakers the chance to offer amendments to the spending bill that would make more significant cuts.

A spokesman for the RSC offered support for the proposal, but added that many Republicans want deeper cuts.

"Chairman Ryan's proposal shows that Republicans are working to help the economy by cutting reckless spending," RSC spokesman Brian Straessle said. "Many House members want to see at least $100 billion in non-security savings this fiscal year and will offer amendments to get there if necessary. Unlike former Speaker Pelosi, Republican leadership understands the value of an open legislative process."

In a letter signed by 89 RSC members to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), conservative Republicans last month pushed for deep cuts. 

“Despite the added challenge of being four months into the current fiscal year, we still must keep our $100 billion pledge to the American people,” the Jan. 24 letter said. “These $100 billion in cuts to non-security discretionary spending not only ensure that we keep our word to the American people; they represent a credible down payment on the fiscally responsible measures that will be needed to get the nation’s finances back on track.”

The Ryan ceiling announced Thursday represents a $58 billion cut in non-security discretionary funding compared to the president's budget request, GOP aides said. 

In a statement, Ryan characterized the cuts as a “down payment” on future spending cuts. He also said the GOP will demand further cuts along with budget process reforms in connection with a vote to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the ranking Democrat on Ryan's panel, said the cuts would hurt the economy and put more people out of work. "The President’s bipartisan Fiscal Commission cautioned against such immediate spending cuts, and economists like Mark Zandi have made the point that deep and immediate spending cuts proposed by Republicans could raise the unemployment rate back into double digits," Van Hollen said.

Details of the cuts were not announced on Thursday. The House Appropriations Committee next week will release its bill based on the spending ceiling.

However, a leadership aide indicated the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be targeted. The aide said EPA has tripled its budget in the last three years and said agencies that have seen such growth will be affected.

The ceilings released today will be put into the Congressional Register next week by Ryan, who under new House rules was given the power to set the budget ceilings.

Aides have said that the continuing resolution that emerges from the House will be dead on arrival in the Democratic Senate, leading to lengthy negotiations beyond the March 4 deadline. If a short-term resolution is not approved, all non-essential functions of the government will cease.

This story was posted at 11:35 a.m. and last updated at 1:24 p.m.

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