ONTD Political

Slashing $100 billion: What's first to go?

5:58 pm - 12/27/2010
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Incoming House Speaker John Boehner has made it very clear: When he takes control of the House, slashing the federal budget by $100 billion will be priority number one.

The stakes are high.

Republicans view their midterm electoral victory as a mandate to cut spending, and cutting $100 billion from a $3 trillion federal budget sounds like a reasonable goal.

But GOP leaders say they will focus only on non-security discretionary spending, and won't slash funding for defense, Social Security or Medicare.

That makes their task a lot harder.

Cutting non-security discretionary funds by $100 billion means a 21% annual reduction in the part of the budget that includes funding for education, health and human services and housing and urban development, among other things, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank.

In other words, the sacred cows of domestic Democratic policy.

Asked which programs will be cut to get to the $100 billion target, Boehner did not offer specifics.

"But I will tell you," he told reporters earlier this month. "We are going to cut spending."

The Washington Punch List
Republicans point out they have already voted to ban earmarks -- money appropriated by a member of Congress for a special project -- within their own caucus.

The problem is that earmarks aren't additional spending -- they're a portion of the total amount lawmakers have agreed to spend for a given year.

Net savings: Zero.

Still, Boehner already has his starting point picked out: reducing Congress' own budget.

"We'll start first by cutting our own budget. It will be one of our first votes," Boehner said earlier this month. But the savings available there are paltry. The total budget for the legislative branch was $4.7 billion in 2009.

That leaves the GOP with a lot of ground to make up.

The Republican outline for cuts
Republicans offered some clues as to how they might cut discretionary spending in the party's Pledge to America document and the YouCut program introduced earlier this year.

The Pledge to America is short on specifics. Among its proposals: cap discretionary spending, freeze hiring of federal workers and cancel unspent stimulus funds.

"I think getting control of the discretionary accounts is a great first step," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a leading Republican economist and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

The YouCut program actually put some GOP ideas to the test. During the last Congress, Republicans took 14 ideas to cut the budget and brought the items to a vote in the House. If they had all passed, more than $120 billion would have been cut from the budget.

Problem: Not one measure passed.

It's unclear how much easier it will get. In 2011, Republicans will control the House, but they will still face a slight Democratic majority in the Senate and, of course, Obama in the White House.

Tougher decisions ahead
"The president is still the one setting the agenda," said Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum.

Boehner wants to start cutting right away, saying that Republicans want to roll back discretionary spending to 2008 levels as "soon as possible."

The gathering storm
Democrats, knowing the fight was ahead, tried to nail down funding through October 2011.

In the last days of the current Congress, Democrats pushed for a massive $1.1 trillion budget extension that would have locked in spending at current levels for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

But Senate Republicans killed the measure, instead forcing Democrats to settle for an extension that will keep spending at current levels until March 4.

That sets up a battle royale for early next year as Republicans seek to kill signature Democratic legislative victories, some of which -- like funding for health care and financial reform -- remain unfunded.

Holtz-Eakin thinks the most likely scenario is that Congress will pass another short-term fix that will fund the government until October, and that the real fight will be over the 2012 budget.

"There will be some cuts [in fiscal 2011] and then they will turn to 2012, and that's where the rubber hits the road," Holtz-Eakin said.

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escherichiacola 28th-Dec-2010 12:10 am (UTC)
Deficit peacock strut? From Republicans? Never.
doverz 28th-Dec-2010 12:25 am (UTC)
Word. It really sucks for us when the US decides that we have to exert our moral authority on other nations like in the Middle East.
doverz 28th-Dec-2010 12:23 am (UTC)
So Defense, Social Security, and Medicare are all safe. We all know what that means: welfare programs will be cut.

If you want to cut $100 billion Boehner, cut it from our Defense budget and we'd still be outspending every other nation on our military.

Regardless of what they cut, $100 billion won't make too much of a difference when our deficit is like 3 trillion.
entropius 28th-Dec-2010 03:07 am (UTC)
It's not like cutting $100 billion from the defense budget means a damn thing.

Hell, it's not like cutting $400 billion would matter. We'd still be able to flatten anybody except for China, Russia, or the EU. What happens if we get in a war with any of them? Nukes fly, and we're all boned, whether we spend $750 billion or $250 billion a year.
mindrtist 28th-Dec-2010 12:36 am (UTC)
Good luck getting a Democratic majority in The Senate to pass this.
_meathook 28th-Dec-2010 01:48 am (UTC)
Honestly, it probably won't be that hard. Dems roll over if someone pokes them with their pinky.
layweed 28th-Dec-2010 12:36 am (UTC)
Why don't we start with legislative salaries and benefits. Cut the fat from the top down.
miss_nyxie 28th-Dec-2010 01:13 am (UTC)
ladylothwen 28th-Dec-2010 12:44 am (UTC)
Sometimes I get to this place where I realize that this is important stuff but all I hear is the Blah, Blah, Blah. They say it over and over yet it never appears to end.
miss_nyxie 28th-Dec-2010 01:14 am (UTC)
We'll put it off until March 2011. We'll put it off until 2012. We'll put it off and off and off while we continue to get richer.
chaya 28th-Dec-2010 01:58 am (UTC)
As long as the gargantuan defense budget is a sacred cow, and we're not even allowed to *begin* discussing where money might being completely wasted, we won't make any progress.
roseofjuly 28th-Dec-2010 09:15 am (UTC)
Yeah, I mean what sense does it make to say "We don't know where we're going to cut, but it won't be the thing we spend the most money on!"
erunamiryene 28th-Dec-2010 01:59 am (UTC)

If you're dead set on not cutting defense, Sir John of Mangerine, I have some suggestions for how particular government employees (you refer to them all as your "friends", in case you need a hint) are overpaid, get pensions, and get government health care. Why don't y'all show how much you really care about the troops, and you can get paid the same salaries they do?

Or, if you don't like that, you can get paid hourly. And guess what, schmoozing, tanning, and golfing don't count as WORKING. I mean when you have your ass planted in your seat, LEGISLATING. That'll save us a metric fuckton of money, since most of y'all never do a goddamn thing.
tigerdreams 28th-Dec-2010 02:17 am (UTC)
I am in love with everything you have just said.
gretchystretchy 28th-Dec-2010 02:06 am (UTC)
Ugh. *joins in on the "just fucking cut defense you assholes" comments*

Anyone else want Obama to pull a Jed Bartlet and "shut it down" over the budget? Because I kinda really do.
entropius 28th-Dec-2010 03:09 am (UTC)

I want the Democrats to impose a hard ceiling on the defense budget and refuse to pass anything more than that. Vote among the caucus what it should be, and then impose it on the GOP.

They could have done that during the Bush years with the filibuster, but Democrats have no spine.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
anolinde 28th-Dec-2010 02:45 am (UTC)
celtic_thistle 28th-Dec-2010 02:22 am (UTC)

jfc it really is not that difficult.
tmlforsyth 28th-Dec-2010 03:00 am (UTC)
Defense has loads of waste, and tons of civilians employees; let's not go after military salaries, though.

100 billion in non-defense cuts along with defense cuts and rescinding all the tax cuts may come a lot closer to balancing the budget.

entropius 28th-Dec-2010 03:10 am (UTC)
Cutting the military budget by 25% (or 50%) is perfectly compatible with what Boehner has said...

... because the American military budget has nothing to do with security! Actually, we'd be a lot more secure with a lower military budget -- since there'd be a lot fewer radical Muslims that hated us.
hinoema 28th-Dec-2010 10:22 am (UTC)
I'll bet everything I have that the words 'cut military spending' will never cross his lips.
hinoema 28th-Dec-2010 10:24 am (UTC)
ETA: Wow, It's a chorus!
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