House Republican leaders and the White House are nearing a deal to finally close the books on the 2011 budget—six months into the fiscal year. The White House says it will accept spending cuts of $33 billion, compared to the $62 billion the House passed earlier this year. If House Speaker John Boehner can bring that number closer to $40 billion, so much the better.
We share the desire of new Members in Congress who want deeper reductions. But Republicans don’t hold the Senate or the White House, and even cuts of this magnitude are bigger than anyone could have expected last December. Republicans and tea partiers should pocket the victory and move on to the bigger fights over the 2012 budget and debt ceiling.
The fact that Congress is cutting any spending from the $3.6 trillion budget is a big cultural shift in Washington and an important course correction. In 2008, domestic discretionary spending rose by roughly 8%. The budget for federal agencies then expanded another 24% over 2009 and 2010, not including the $270 billion of stimulus funds for these programs. By contrast, the $10 billion in cuts that Republicans have already won for fiscal 2011 will reduce spending by roughly 1%, and 3% if a $33 billion compromise becomes law
We hope freshmen Republicans don’t mistake this early budget compromise for Armageddon and refuse to vote for it. That could weaken the final deal by forcing GOP leaders to move left to get Democratic votes. Republicans are winning the spending debate because they have methodically kept their focus on spending issues rather than on extraneous policy riders. They shouldn’t weaken themselves by splintering over an early skirmish, because they will need to be unified and determined for the bigger fights ahead.