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Did House Republicans Reach Their Limit on Spending Cuts?



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Last week, after agreeing to include a full $100 billion worth of spending cuts in a continuing resolution to fund the government for the remainder of the year, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said: “There’s no limit to the amount of money we’re willing to cut.”

Well, on Friday they appeared to have found a limit. An amendment introduced by Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) and Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, that would cut an additional $22 billion in non-defense spending from the CR, was voted down 147 to 281. The ‘nays’ included 92 Republicans, most notably the Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and a number of freshman members. The additional cuts would have brought non-security spending down to pre-stimulus 2008 levels, as outlined in the GOP “Pledge to America.”

Republicans who voted against the measure argued that they weren’t opposed to further spending cuts, just the manner in which the proposed amendment would achieve them. If enacted, it would have imposed across-the-board cuts — 11 percent from Legislative Branch accounts and 5.5 percent from all other non-defense accounts. Aid to Isreal would be exempted from the cuts.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R., Ga.), who called himself a “proud RSC member,” but voted against the measure, offered a familiar argument against cutting across-the-board, saying it would cede too much power to the Obama administration. “I’ve got to say to my conservative friends, when you cut across the board, who do you think is going to be in charge of where these cuts come from?” Kingston asked.

It is a familiar argument because it is the exact same rationale invoked by Senators (of both parties) who opposed a ban on earmarks. In this case, some Republicans argued that it would be better to wait and include further cuts — specific, Republican-approved cuts — in the 2012 budget that Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) will release in the spring.

Others were far more blunt in their opposition. Rep. Dan Lungren (R., Calif.) said that across-the-board cuts were “a lazy member’s way to achieve something.” And Democrats were predictably apoplectic — Rep. Jim Moran (D., Va.) said the additional cuts would “commit this country to an economic death spiral.”

On the other side, Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), a cosponsor of the amendment, urged his colleagues to make good on their commitment to reducing the deficit. “What we’re doing here is a rounding error compared to what we’re going to have to do with entitlement spending,” he said.

Jordan said it was time for government to start making the difficult choices that American families are making on a daily basis. “It’s not pleasant to reduce spending … I get that,” he said. “But if we don’t do this, [the] future for our kids and our grand-kids is diminished.”

After the vote, Republicans on both sides of the debate sought to downplay the split within the party. Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R., Miss.), a freshman member of the appropriations committee who voted against the amendment, told NRO: “As Thomas Jefferson said ‘Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle’… We’re committed to cutting spending, but doing it across the board is not the proper way to legislate … We need specific cuts.”

An House aide close to the RSC pointed out that in spite of the amendment’s defeat, the conservative caucus has already made a tremendous impact on the spending debate, leading the push to get $100 billion of cuts included in the bill. “Obviously we’re a bit disappointed that the votes weren’t there to go even further,” the aide told NRO. “But overall the process has been a success.”

Whatever the case, the bill that passes the House (a final vote is expected early Saturday morning) won’t get anywhere in the Senate. After all, the bill currently includes amendment to defund Planned Parenthood, the White House “czars” and their staff, and almost every aspect of Obamacare, to name a few. President Obama has threatened a veto. The next real test for House Republicans will be how they handle the impending showdown over spending that will play out from now until March 4, when the current CR expires. Will they be willing to shut down the government in the event of an impasse? Or, perhaps a better way of phrasing that is: Will Republicans be willing to accept the blame for a government shutdown? Not that they’d deserve it, but Democrats and their allies in the media have been incessantly driving this narrative, so it’s something Republicans must consider. And if not, how much will they be willing to concede to Democrats in the form of a compromise?

UPDATE: A House Republican aide tells NRO: “With all due respect, Rep. Kingston’s argument is totally incorrect. The amendment did not leave any discretion to the White House. Each and every account or program would have been reduced by a specific amount, either 11 percent for Congress or 5.5 percent for other non-security accounts.”



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