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Ryan Proposes Modest $32 Billion Cut for Rest of 2011 Budget Year

Paul Ryan, in his position as the chair of the House Budget Committee, has released a document setting spending limits for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, which would reduce spending by $74 billion from the President’s budget request for 2011, but only by $32 billion under current law. The announcement by Ryan, and the subsequent discretionary spending allocation that Ryan will file next week when the House returns to session, has binding force under House rules adopted earlier this year; he basically set the spending limits for the House Appropriations Committee without a vote from the full body. The House voted to instruct the Budget Committee to set limits, but never provided a specific number.

In reality, this sets up the opening bid from the House Republican side on the spending battle that must be joined before the continuing resolution runs out on March 4. Republicans want to cut $32 billion immediately; Democrats, at least as evidenced by Barack Obama’s State of the Union, want to maintain spending levels. So the fight, which originally was seen as a much greater one, is being played on a much thinner slice of territory.

This essentially breaks the promise by House Republicans in the Pledge to America to reduce spending by $100 billion immediately for the 2011 budget year. This more modest cut of $32 billion would “bring non-security discretionary spending back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels,” according to Ryan, but in a pro-rated way, since five months of the budget year have already passed. Here is Ryan’s statement:

“Washington’s spending spree is over. As House Republicans pledged – and voted to affirm on the House floor last week – the spending limits will restore sanity to a broken budget process and return spending for domestic government agencies to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels. Last year, House Democrats failed to pass, or even propose, a budget and the spending binge continued unchecked. After two consecutive trillion dollar budget deficits and with unemployment remaining unbearably high, we must chart a new course.

“The spending limit measure marks another step in House Republicans’ continued efforts to change Washington’s pervasive culture of spending. In one of our first acts in the new Majority, we voted to cut Congress’s own budget. We voted to cut trillions of dollars in new government spending by advancing a repeal of the President’s health care law. The President has asked for an increase in the national debt limit, but we must first work to enact serious spending cuts and reforms. Endless borrowing is not a strategy. Business as usual in Washington is not acceptable.

“House Republicans will continue to build upon this down payment, working to restrain the explosive growth of government and to help restart America’s engine of economic growth and job creation.”

In an accompanying fact sheet, Ryan lays out the numbers, but just covers “security” and “nonsecurity” spending, while not stating precisely what programs would be cut. The House Appropriations Committee promises some details on that by the end of the day.

There are $58 billion in nonsecurity savings and actually $16 billion in security savings, relative to a budget request of the President for 2011. Of course, we’re not operating under a 2011 budget, but a continuing resolution from 2010. Under those terms, the cut is $32 billion, and it reflects an increase in security spending of $8 billion, and a decrease in nonsecurity spending by $40 billion.

Ryan is having some fun with numbers here, but essentially, he wimped out. The fight is now over $32 billion in spending for the rest of 2011. That’s not nothing – it represents half of the benefit from the increased payroll tax cut relative to the Making Work Pay tax credit – but it’s far, far lower than the $100 billion proposed by the Republican Study Committee. Can’t wait to see their press release. I imagine the word “betrayal” will be in it.

UPDATE: Democrats have already called these spending targets unworkable. One month to go on this.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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