House Republicans Hold the Line on Spending Cuts

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TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that House Republicans are prepared to reject a White House offer to cut more than $30 billion from the federal budget over the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The sticking point, Beutler writes, is a dispute over whether some of the money should come from mandatory spending programs:

Democrats are pushing for such cuts, which include the big entitlement programs, though the specific cuts they’re proposing remain unclear. In an ironic twist, Republicans oppose those cuts and want to limit the negotiations to non-defense discretionary spending, a smaller subset of the federal budget.

(The irony, of course, is that the GOP has pledged to include provisions to reform entitlement programs in its own 2012 budget, slated for a roll-out early next month.)

With the prospect of averting a shutdown darkening by the hour, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blamed the impasse on the GOP’s Tea Party wing. “The biggest negotiation isn’t between Republicans and Democrats, it’s between Republicans and Republicans,” the Nevada Democrat said. “The infighting between the Tea Party and the rest of the Republican Party, including the Republican leadership in Congress, is keeping our negotiating partner [from] the negotiating table.”

Reid certainly has cause for frustration. House Republican leaders have used the specter of a Tea Party revolt to pull off a coup: they’re poised to get everything they originally wanted, plus additional concessions should they cajole their conference into accepting them. Less than two months ago, House Budget Chair Paul Ryan unveiled the party’s target figure for 2011 spending reductions: $32 billion. It’s roughly the same sum House Republicans are now balking at. For all the predictions that the Tea Party would box John Boehner into a corner, Republican leaders have so far wielded their rank-and-file hard-liners as a negotiating weapon. Of course, it’s hard to say how much control Boehner actually exerts over the Tea Party caucus. By raising the stakes of the spending debate ever higher, they could just as easily be setting the Speaker up for a bruising fall.

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