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House GOP Rules Allow for Back-Door Spending Limits Authored by Paul Ryan

The more we look at the House rules, the more we find. Today, the CBPP uncovers a new rule that would give a lot of power to House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan:

Another aspect of the proposed rules also seems at odds with promises made in the campaign about what a new Republican majority would do. There was much talk about increasing the transparency of the legislative process, and some proposals in the new rules package would do that. But the new rules also include a stunning and unprecedented provision authorizing the Chairman of the Budget Committee elected in the 112th Congress, expected to be Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, to submit for publication in the Congressional Record total spending and revenue limits and allocations of spending to committees — and the rules provide that this submission “shall be considered as the completion of congressional action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2011.” In other words, in the absence of a budget resolution agreement between the House and the Senate, it appears that Rep. Ryan (presumably with the concurrence of the Republican leadership) will be allowed to set enforceable spending and revenue limits, with any departure from those limits subject to being ruled “out of order.”

This rule change has immediate, far-reaching implications. It means that by voting to adopt the proposed new rules on January 5, a vote on which party discipline will be strictly enforced, the House could effectively be adopting a budget resolution and limits for appropriations bills that it has never even seen, much less debated and had an opportunity to amend. (There is no requirement for Representative Ryan to make his proposed spending and revenue limits available to Members or the public before the vote on the new rules.)

Let’s be clear about what this does. The House cannot put binding spending measures on the Senate. So this applies to the House only. Let’s make clear that there are essentially two stages of the budget process – the budget resolution, and the appropriations bills. If there is no budget resolution agreed on by the House and the Senate, the appropriations committees can just freelance, and set their own spending targets. This rule change would essentially enforce party discipline in the event of no budget resolution, which the GOP House basically assumes by wanting to adopt this rule. So this gives the Budget Committee, and Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan, a way to back-door spending limits that will guide appropriations bills in the House. The Senate will go its own way, and there would still need to be a negotiation, probably with the White House’s involvement, to arrive at a final result.

It’s really a way for a budget resolution to pass without anyone having to take a vote on it. The House GOP wants to cut spending by 20%, but doesn’t want to say where the ax will fall. This allows individual members to remain vague without ever having to vote on something specific. Ryan can just hide the spending limits basically forever, and have them become the House baseline.

I like this element of the new rules as well:

The new rules also specifically empower the Budget Committee Chairman to exempt from budget enforcement rules the fiscal effects of repealing the health reform law. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the health reform law will reduce deficits by more than $100 billion over the first ten years and by roughly $1 trillion or more over the second ten years. Its repeal would increase deficits by those amounts.

So the budget deficit is of supreme importance – unless repealing health care increases the deficit, and then we’ll have this “get-out-of-deficit-free” card.

Of course, nobody believes anymore that Republicans care about the deficit – they care about tax cuts that force spending cuts. The impact on the deficit is really not even germane.

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David Dayen

David Dayen