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Republicans Go Back to Appropriations to Find More Spending Cuts

The disconnect between the Republican leadership and the rank and file over the size of spending cuts the continuing resolution for the rest of Fiscal Year 2011 is part kabuki but also part of a real dispute. Indeed, Republicans elected in 2010 did run on an immediate $100 billion reduction in spending in this calendar year, and indeed they do see the $32 billion net cut as a capitulation. This is already affecting John Boehner’s personal approval ratings as he is seen as breaking promises right from the start. It also calls into question whether the leadership could even get the votes for their cut-lite plan.

So Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers, a day after basically finalizing the cuts, went back to work to slash even more.

“After meeting with my subcommittee Chairs, we have determined that the [spending resolution] can and will reach a total of $100 billion in cuts compared to the President’s request immediately — fully meeting the goal outlined in the Republican ‘Pledge to America’ in one fell swoop,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) in a statement to reporters Thursday. “Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned and allowing no agency or program to be held sacred. I have instructed my committee to include these deeper cuts, and we are continuing to work to complete this critical legislation.”

Note the term “compared to the President’s request.” Right now, they claim that their cuts go $74 billion below the President’s request for FY 2011. Of course, that request was never put into place. The real cut from the actual level of spending was more like $32 billion. Therefore, whatever comes out would account for around $26 billion more, making the total number of cuts something like $58 billion, not $100 billion.

But $58 billion would still be a drastic amount of cuts to hit the nation immediately, wiping out basically the entire benefit of the payroll tax cut (relative to the Making Work Pay tax cut it replaced).

Republicans are likely to also add a provision into the continuing resolution blocking the EPA from greenhouse gas regulation. And it’s likely that they’ll zero out all family planning funding, basically defunding Planned Parenthood, as well. They’re really throwing the kitchen sink into this thing.

Clearly the Republicans are going back on their promise to have an open rule on this continuing resolution. They just don’t want a free-for-all on the House floor. They’re going to try to cut enough to mollify 218 members and take it from there. But that’s going to be a delicate balancing act. And it’s also DOA in the Senate.

I think the chances of a government shutdown in March just got a little greater, with this action. Republicans don’t have a lot of control over their rank and file on their own terms, let alone on a compromise with Democrats.

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David Dayen

David Dayen