100 Billion Dollars!

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Last year, in the Pledge to America Republicans said if they gained control of the House they would lop $100 billion off the 2011 federal budget. Lo and behold they won. But the week they took office, they said that given that fiscal 2011 was already partly over so they would cut more like $60 billion. I never quite got this move as it seemed like they were ceding ground before the negotiations even started. And then they ceded even more. Last week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan came up with an even smaller number: just $35 billion in cuts.

When asked how the $35 billion in cuts fulfills their pledge of $100 billion, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had this to say on Tuesday:

It fulfills the pledge because we said in a year’s time we were going to cut spending by $100 billion. As you know, we are five twelfths of the way through the fiscal year by the time the expiration occurs. We will be proposing this again in the next fiscal year, and if you look at it in an annualized basis, I assure you it will be over a $100 billion.

Apparently, the GOP freshmen didn’t buy this fuzzy math. Wednesday morning after the House Appropriations Committee revealed $40 billion in cuts the freshmen and Republican Study Committee, a group of fiscal conservatives, balked and demanded more. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers went back to the cutting table and produced $76 billion in cuts. That still wasn’t good enough.

So, today Rogers announced they’d found the full $100 billion in cuts and they will move forward with this bill. The cuts include both defense and non-defense discretionary spending. And they’re going absolutely nowhere as the Senate will surely reinstate most of them. The big question, though, is if this rebellion shows that House Speaker John Boehner and his gang have little control over their conference. Boehner has mostly poo-poohed the idea of a government shut down. But if he cannot muster enough votes when the Senate bounces the 2011 budget back to them he may be dragged by his Tea Party wing into doing exactly that. Government funding runs out March 4 and, yes, a temporary measure can be passed extending the current level of funding while the debate plays out. But the longer this takes, the less months in the fiscal year, which ends in September, remain for cuts and the deeper the cuts will be — $100 billion spread over 12 months is not nearly as painful as $100 billion spread over six months. And at what point to the freshmen say uncle? To hear them tell it, not any time soon. “A lot of us freshmen don’t have a lot of knowledge about the way DC has operated,” Rep. Kristi Noem, a South Dakota Republican who beat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in November told a roaring crowd at CPAC today, “and frankly we don’t really care.”