But as the senior Republican on the House Budget Committee, Ryan himself proposed to cap government spending and enforce those caps with automatic spending cuts that would have hit the Pentagon.
As introduced in 2010, Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future” would have created “a mechanism to automatically slow the growth in faster-spending entitlement programs” by requiring the White House budget office “to make across-the-board spending reductions in both mandatory and discretionary programs” if overall federal spending breached specified limits.
The Defense Department would have been a target for cuts, House Budget Committee aides confirmed Monday, though the impact would have been limited to 1 percent of any agency’s budget.
“It’s fair to say we think we need to have enforcement mechanisms to achieve these reductions,” said one senior budget aide, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “But every time Paul Ryan has done it, it’s been part of a plan to actually get spending down to these levels. . . . It was meant as a backstop to force action.”
That enforcement mechanism was not included in the budget resolutions that passed the House in 2011 and earlier this year, the aides said, in part because budget resolutions lack the legal power to create and enforce such caps. Ryan included the mechanism only in the fiscal “roadmaps” he offered as stand-alone legislation beginning in 2008, when House Republicans were in the minority.
Aides to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign said the proposed cuts in the Ryan budgets can’t be compared with the cuts looming in January, for which they continue to blame Obama.
“Only one person in this race has proposed a plan that would leave our national security at risk, and that’s Barack Obama,” campaign spokesman Brendan Buck said. “Any comparison of the president’s devastating defense cuts that would gut our military and previous House-passed budgets strains credibility.”
Ryan’s use of the mechanism is not particularly surprising. For much of the past three decades, both parties have repeatedly turned to automatic spending cuts designed to slash budgets indiscriminately — a process known as sequestration — as a means to compel action.
In 1985, Republican Sens. Phil Gramm (Tex.) and Warren Rudman (N.H.) joined Democratic Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (S.C.) in drafting one of the earliest sequestration plans, which was designed to hit defense hard to force President Ronald Reagan to the deficit-reduction table.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush agreed to enforce a deficit-reduction deal by setting separate caps for defense and domestic spending, with each side of the budget liable to get whacked with a sequester if its cap were breached.
Last summer, aides to Obama called on this history during the battle to raise the federal debt limit. Negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) over a big deal to reduce borrowing had failed, and Congress was considering naming a special committee to come up with $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade in exchange for a rise in the debt ceiling. But how to make the special committee act?