Last night, the House Republican caucus held emergency meetings in the basement, only emerging late to say they reached an agreement on a spending cut plan for Fiscal Year 2011, one that would cut spending $100 billion below the Obama Administration’s 2011 request. Because Obama’s 2011 request never came to pass, however, the proper comparison is to the 2010 levels, and this cut would be $58 billion from those.
Earlier in the day, Republican leaders recognized they needed to make deeper cuts to please their rank and file. Their original spending plan would have pro-rated the cuts, acknowledging that five months of the fiscal year would have passed by the time their continuing resolution kicked in, and would have been a net cut of only $32 billion. But Tea Party Republicans who ran on a pledge of a $100 billion cut wouldn’t go for it.
Even this $58 billion cut isn’t likely to mollify the entire GOP caucus. They will still allow an open debate on amendments to the CR, and conservatives in their caucus plan to offer more cuts. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) will offer the amendment to block implementation of the health care law. “If we don’t fight on this ground, there will not be ground this good to fight on again,” he told the New York Times. There are probably a handful of conservatives who will vote against the final CR if their amendments fail, though given the agreement last night, not enough to take down the bill entirely.
An open amendment process would mean that Democrats could also force tough votes on restoring popular cuts, but it remains to be seen whether they will be allowed to do that under the rule.
The process in the House says nothing of what will happen once the Senate gets the bill. Senate Democrats do seem poised for cuts, but they are planning on fighting it out in their own chamber, and probably submitting it to the House right before the March 4 deadline and cutting out of town. If cuts are restored, or it doesn’t look precisely like the House version, we go back to the same revolt of the Tea Party that we’ve seen in the past week. I don’t think they have much of a head for compromise, so the end result would be a government shutdown. There are three weeks until the expiration of the current continuing resolution.
Meanwhile, the White House is focused on the FY 2012 budget, which they plan to release next week. But they’re going to have to focus on wrapping up this fiscal year at some point, because it’s looking less and less likely that Congress will be able to get this done.