GOP overpromised on reducing the deficit, says top House Dem

Republicans campaigned last year on promises they likely can't keep, especially on reducing deficit spending, a top House Democrat charged Wednesday.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said GOP vows to slash federal spending and reduce deficits have so far boiled down to "a lot of message and not a lot of substance."

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"It's easy to say something on the campaign trail," Hoyer told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday. "It's easy to come up with some figure."

What's tougher, said the Maryland Democrat, is to come up with the specific cuts — affecting specific congressional districts — that make the math work.

"Substance is tough," he said. "They're struggling to find out what they can do that's real, as opposed to what they can do that serves their rhetoric."

As part of their Pledge to America, GOP leaders vowed to cut at least $100 billion in discretionary spending this year.

"With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt," the Pledge states.

Yet last week, Republicans unveiled a budget blueprint that cuts just $32 billion through the remainder of fiscal year 2011. GOP leaders said the proposal is consistent with the party's vows to scale back federal spending to 2008 levels.

But Democrats — who are urging additional “investment,” or spending, on targeted research and infrastructure projects — have warned the cuts will kill jobs amid a lingering employment crisis.

Hoyer noted Wednesday that scaling back discretionary spending — which doesn't include high-cost entitlements, such as Social Security and Medicare, would barely dent the annual deficit, projected to hit a record $1.5 trillion this year.

"Even if they eliminated every nickel of non-security discretionary spending … then you would cut the budget deficit by about a third this year," Hoyer said.

The House is expected to vote next week on a continuing resolution, which would fund the government at roughly current levels through the end of the fiscal year.

Complicating things for GOP leaders, some Republicans have already shown a willingness to buck the leadership on high-profile votes. Twenty-six Republicans voted with most Democrats Tuesday night against an extension of several provisions of the Patriot Act, which failed to get the two-thirds majority needed under the rule governing the vote.

Republicans are vowing to bring that measure back to the floor under regular rules, which would require just a simple majority. But Hoyer said the lack of unity among Republicans came as no surprise to Democrats.

"It's emblematic of the divisions in the Republican Party," Hoyer said Wednesday. "We all knew they had divisions in their party."