The Disaster-Spending Battle Returns
Republicans consider using budget gimmicks to keep spending down.


Andrew Stiles

Though the “supercommittee,” which has until November 23 to produce a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years, has garnered most of the headlines, there is another spending showdown brewing on Capitol Hill.

After more than two years of funding the government with temporary spending resolutions — a result of the Democratic Senate’s unprecedented failure to pass a budget — Congress is finally getting back to something resembling the normal appropriations process. The debt-ceiling deal passed in August set discretionary-spending levels for fiscal year 2012, by which Congress must now abide.

That top-line figure — $1.043 trillion — constitutes a $900 billion cut over ten years with last year’s discretionary spending used as the baseline, but has many House conservatives in dismay. They are hesitant to accept anything beyond the House-passed budget authored by budget chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), which set FY2012 spending at $1.019 trillion. Even that, they argue, is a compromise compared with the $978 billion set out in the budget proposal from the conservative Republican Study Committee.

But that’s not all that is rankling House conservatives.

Last month, a dispute between the House and Senate over emergency disaster-relief funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency brought the government to the brink of a shutdown. Lawmakers ultimately agreed on a short-term funding bill — not resolving the dispute over emergency funding, but rather kicking it down the road. That bill expires November 18, at which point the debate could once again threaten a government shutdown.

House GOP leadership is considering adding between $7 billion and $11 billion in emergency funding on top of the $1.043 trillion cap set by the debt-ceiling legislation (the Budget Control Act). Because of the “emergency” designation, it would not count toward the cap. This has House conservatives, many of whom voted against the Budget Control Act, up in arms. They are not pleased at the prospect of having to explain to their constituents why Congress is poised to spend even more money than was agreed to — in what they viewed to be a raw deal in the first place. Furthermore, if Congress decides to spend $11 billion on top of the agreed-upon cap, it would mean that the government would have higher discretionary spending in FY2012 than the $1.050 trillion allocated last year. “That’s a big problem for a lot of conservatives,” says one House GOP aide. That is especially true of freshman members who feel they were elected to change the course of spending in Washington.

The Republican leadership has sought to assuage such concerns by pointing out that they are simply abiding by the terms of the Budget Control Act, which exempts emergency funding (as well as spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) from the annual budget caps.


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