Lately, most of the focus on the Hill has centered on the supercommittee and its Nov. 23 deadline to come up with $1.2 trillion budget cuts. But there’s another battle heating up, over the 2012 budget, that could prove equally contentious.
Up until recently, the White House has stayed fairly quiet on the 2012 budget. But now, the administration is starting to raise concerns that measures pushed by House Republicans could create yet another showdown. Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, laid out the White House’s fears about the 2012 budget in further detail:
Last February, by a party-line vote, the House passed an omnibus appropriations bill that, in addition to making deep cuts in programs such as Race to the Top, food safety inspections, police officer hiring, and energy research, also stripped funding from Planned Parenthood and blocked enforcement of laws to protect our air and water and health...
So far this year, the House unfortunately has passed bills with many of the same funding problems and extreme and ideological provisions as we saw in February. The date may have changed, but the President’s priorities have not – nor has his commitment to stop these sorts of measures. Going down this extreme, ideological path will only lead to gridlock.
Of particular concern to the White House are the measures contained in the House GOP bill on labor, health and education, which one administration official described to me as a “microcosm” of budget tactics that Democrats find unacceptable. “This is so far from being the kind of bill that Republicans agreed to and the president signed last August,” an administration official expanded, describing spending cuts that would dismantle federal health reform, Dodd-Frank, Pell Grants, and other top Democratic priorities. “They kind of want to replay this very high-risk game.”
It’s still unclear whether Republican leaders themselves will continue to hold a hard line on such measures going forward. Ultimately, party leaders themselves will be conferencing the House and Senate spending bills to come up with a compromise, and GOP leaders may not insist on keeping all the riders and spending cuts. House GOP appropriations chair Hal Rogers wants a “quick turnaround” for the budget measures, as Politico noted.
But the right flank of the party has already fired a few warning shots. The Republican Study Committee, the voice of House conservatives, recently announced that any $1.043 trillion budget wouldn’t cut enough government spending. This week, Senate conservatives convinced Mitch McConnell himself to vote against the Democratic spending bill on agriculture, even though McConnell had helped craft the debt-ceiling deal that defined the parameters of that measure.
“Unless we can be open and transparent with the American people and acknowledge the fact that we are spending more, I think this is a problem,” GOP Sen. Mike Lee, who led the GOP defection, told Politico. “We have to get the fiscal house in order, and this is how it is perpetuated, when we claim we are cutting when we are in fact spending more.” Given such moves, Democrats in the White House and on the Hill have raised the alarm in advance, warning Republicans to back off.