House Republicans vote to roll back spending levels

Hours before President Obama was to make his own deficit reduction proposals in the State of the Union address, the House on Tuesday voted 256-165 to slash spending this year to 2008 levels “or less.”

Seventeen Democrats, mostly from the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, joined 239 Republicans in approving the measure. No Republicans voted against it. Democratic leadership whipped a “no” vote on procedural grounds because the bill contains no hard numbers.

ADVERTISEMENT

The National Republican Congressional Committee immediately sent out a release accusing vulnerable Democrats who voted no of favoring out-of-control spending.

H.Res. 38 instructs Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.) to set spending ceilings for non-security discretionary spending in 2011 to the levels during the last year of the George W. Bush administration, or lower.

Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE (R-Va.) said Tuesday that the House would vote the week of Feb. 14 on a funding bill that brings spending under the ceilings Ryan will set.

Ryan was given the power to unilaterally set the ceilings in a rule approved in early January, so Tuesday’s vote wasn’t technically necessary. GOP leaders acknowledged the vote was merely to get members on the record about spending cuts. 

Ryan, on the House floor, denied that he had been given dictatorial powers and said that he needed his new authority since Democrats didn’t pass a budget last year and there was “no policeman on the beat.”

The next step in the 2011 spending process will come quickly. The Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday will release new budget estimates, after which Ryan will be able to set the spending ceilings.

Ryan has estimated that cuts will total about $60 billion, but some Republicans say that isn’t enough. Eighty-nine members of the Republican Study Committee sent a letter to House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) on Monday calling for at least $100 billion to be cut in the second half of 2011.

In a tense floor debate, individual Democrats warned that the cuts the GOP is proposing are coming too fast and will hurt the economic recovery as government workers are laid off. They also said that because defense spending is exempt, other areas, including spending on agencies such as the FBI, would be hit too hard.

House Appropriations Committee ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a longtime friend of the defense industry, said he believes $13 billion can be cut from the defense budget without any negative effect.

House aides said that the continuing budget resolution would extend funding until the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30 and will contain a detailed list of program cuts that the House Appropriations Committee is now developing.

One aide, however, said that the process for formulating the cuts remained unclear Tuesday, sparking speculation that a one-month continuing resolution might be needed to keep the government operating. Congress has just two session weeks to meet Cantor’s deadline.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), long known as a champion of spending in his district, acknowledged the pain for appropriators.

“Let there be no mistake: The cuts that are coming will not be easy to make. They will not represent ‘low-hanging fruit,’ ” he said on the floor. “These cuts will go deep and wide, and will hit virtually every agency and every congressional district in this country, including my own.”