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One More Budget Brouhaha

House Will Need to Reconcile Different 2012 Spending Limits

Douglas Graham/Roll Call

House Republican leaders have one more hurdle to clear on the deal that was recently signed into law to raise the debt ceiling: passing a measure that locks in the fiscal 2012 discretionary spending figure agreed to under the law.

The new debt ceiling law sets the discretionary spending limit at $1.043 trillion for the next fiscal year. But according to the House Budget Committee, the budget resolution passed by the House in April — which sets discretionary spending at $1.019 trillion — is still operative and House GOP leaders must have Members vote to put the new, higher spending level in place.

The vote, expected to take place after the current recess, could provide another opportunity for House conservatives to flex their muscles and possibly force House GOP leaders to balk at the spending figure in the deal.

“I don’t think that would be something that would sail through without serious concerns being expressed by members of the Republican Conference to leadership,” said Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Under the new law, the $1.043 trillion is divided between a cap for security spending and nonsecurity spending. Security spending — which mostly includes funding bills for defense, military construction projects, the State Department and foreign operations, as well as the National Nuclear Security Administration — is limited to $684 billion. Nonsecurity spending is limited to $359 billion.

The House Appropriations Committee has already cleared nine of the 12 annual spending bills using the House spending blueprint devised by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and the full House has passed six. They are currently $9 billion over the new security cap and $34 billion below the nonsecurity cap.

If GOP leaders can keep the same coalition together that approved the debt ceiling deal with 174 Republicans and 95 Democrats in favor, then the measure should pass.

House Republican leaders are evaluating the matter, according to a GOP aide.

Andrew Roth, vice president of government affairs for the Club for Growth, said he believes this could be the next spending fight.

“I anticipate a lot of battles to occur between now and the end of the year, and this could likely be one of them,” Roth said.

“The spending cap is just a cap,” Roth continued. “Members shouldn’t be obligated to spend every penny within the cap. Since the Ryan budget is under the [debt ceiling deal] cap, I think that Members should fight to spend as little as possible. That budget affords that goal.”

He said it was “too soon to tell” whether the Club for Growth would urge members to push for the lower spending level in the Ryan budget.

The Club for Growth opposed the debt limit deal and said it would take into consideration the vote when it decides endorsements in the 2012 elections. The group also played a role in backing tea party primary challengers to take on GOP incumbents in last year’s elections.

Lilly added that Senate appropriators would work from the new debt ceiling spending figure and, if the House sticks to the budget resolution, the two chambers could settle the issue in a conference committee but likely at levels higher than the House-passed Ryan budget calls for.

“That gives the two houses the opportunity to go to conference and produce numbers that are more moderate and less disruptive than the ones in the House budget resolution,” Lilly said.

Adoption of the new spending level isn’t a problem in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority. Under the debt limit law, the figures are deemed passed by the Senate after Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) files them in the Congressional Record.

The debt ceiling deal was begrudgingly supported by many House Republicans as a preferable alternative to a possible default on government debt.

Ryan called the measure “far from perfect” but nevertheless said it was “a positive step forward in getting government-spending control.”

But others opposed it because it didn’t require passage of a balanced budget amendment and sets up the new joint committee that will be pressured to consider tax increases.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a tea-party-backed freshman, said he opposed the measure because it doesn’t cut spending enough.

“Back in April — when I voted against the continuing resolution for this year — I said ‘no’ because the cuts were minimal,” he said in a release after the vote on the deal. “I came to the same conclusion today: these are paltry cuts compared to the $14.3 trillion in debt we already have and the $7 trillion in new debt we can expect in the next decade. This is not a path to fiscal solvency, it’s a path to fiscal insanity. My constituents and our economy deserve a long-term solution that ends the biggest problem: we simply spend too much.”

In April, Congress avoided a government shutdown by passing an eleventh-hour deal to fund the remainder of fiscal 2011 that resulted in a roughly $40 billion cut from fiscal 2010 spending. The package amounted to the largest nondefense spending cut in the nation’s history and was the biggest overall reduction since World War II, according to the House Appropriations Committee. But some Republicans opposed that package because the cuts did not go far enough.

Bill Hoagland, a former top Republican Senate Budget Committee staffer who works in government relations for health insurance company CIGNA, said he sees the situation leading to a number of temporary funding extensions, or continuing resolutions. The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and lawmakers are expected to need additional time to debate and finish the 12 annual appropriations bills for the next year.

“We will have, I think, a debate between the House leadership, House appropriators and the Senate Democrats over” the $30 billion difference between current spending and the House budget, Hoagland added. “That tells me that we are probably headed for a number of CRs.”

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