House Tea Party Republicans May Force Deeper Cuts

House Tea Party Republicans May Force Deeper Cuts

The cuts proposed yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee reportedly are not being warmly received by the conservative Tea Party Republicans in the House who promised to cut $100 billion in spending during their campaigns.

Doing the math is a problem in calculating how much of a cut was proposed, starting with the fundamental question of whether the baseline is the President’s FY2011 budget request or the FY2010 appropriated levels under which the government is currently operating based on the Continuing Resolution (CR). Appropriators used the FY2011 President’s request as their baseline, but apparently the Tea Party Republicans want the cut to be from current spending, which is the FY2010 level. If the FY2011 request is used, the House Appropriations Committee’s cuts would total $74 billion. If the FY2010 level is used, the cut is only $32 billion according to calculations by the newspaper The Hill.

Using NASA as an example, its FY2010 level is $18.724 billion, while the FY2011 request is $19.000 billion. The House appropriations committee proposed a $379 million cut to NASA’s FY2011 request, which would give the agency $18.621 billion, $103 million less than its FY2010 level. Under the Tea Party Republican approach of using the FY2010 level as the baseline, NASA would end up with $18.345 billion. Any cut would have to be absorbed in just 7 months instead of 12 months, since 5 months of FY2011 will have passed by the time the current CR expires on March 4.

Another question is whether the $100 billion cut should come only from non-security programs as recommended by the House Republican Study Committee, or if cuts to the Department of Defense, for example, can be included in the calculation. House appropriators reportedly want to include the cuts they proposed to the FY2011 request for security programs, but if the FY2010 figures are used as the baseline instead, that spending would increase.

As Republicans debate these points, the upshot is that the numbers released yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee may become only the tip of the iceberg in whatever the House passes. Politico reports that the chairs of the appropriations committee and its subcommittees “were closeted away in the Capitol, fending off talks of across-the-board cuts but also admitting they will most likely need days more to come up with an alternative.”

Across-the-board cuts are sometimes used by Congress to meet a target spending goal. Each agency is dealt with individually, but then a certain percentage cut is applied to all of them, usually to be taken at an agency’s discretion on an account-by-account basis.

What the Senate will do with whatever legislation is sent to them by the House is highly uncertain. Senators reacted cooly to the earlier-announced House cuts; deeper cuts presumably would increase their concern. With the expiration of the current CR only three weeks away, and the House and Senate scheduled to be in recess for one of those weeks (February 21-25), the clock is ticking for resolving these profound issues.

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