GOP Budget Cut Battle Shows Party Health

It's an important fight, but one that speaks to the health of the new majority rather than to its weakness.

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In the campaign that recently ended, the House Republicans made—as part of their “Pledge to America”—the promise that they would cut $100 billion out of the federal budget over the course of fiscal year 2011.

It's a promise that has created some trouble for them. The U.S. fiscal year begins in October, meaning we're almost a third of the way through it, a fact that has led some GOP leaders to redefine the number downwards.

This has not gone over well with the Tea Party movement and other economic conservatives, who believe the promise is not being kept. Unfortunately for all concerned, it's a matter of definition. The GOP leadership seems to believe it is keeping faith with its promise, while any number of the activist groups that propelled them into the majority think they were promised $100 billion in cuts, and that anything less marks the return of “business as usual.” [See a roundup of political cartoons on the economy.]

Stepping into the breech is the House Republican Study Committee, a group of the party's more conservative members, who last week wrote to House Speaker John Boehner, urging him to kep the promise.“The first step in restoring the trust of the American people and rebuilding the American economy is, simply, to do what we said we would do during the campaign,” they wrote. That means, the letter—signed by 90 members of the House GOP Conference—says, “We still must keep our $100 billion pledge to the American people.”

“These $100 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary spending not only ensure that we keep our word to the American people; they represent a credible down payment on the fiscally responsible measures that will be needed to get the nation's finances back on track.” [Take the poll: Should the GOP's $2.5 trillion in suggested cuts become law?]

New Jersey Republican Scott Garrett, the chairman of the RSC's Budget and Spending Task Force, sees the issue as an important one. “The message from the American people in November was loud and clear. They want us to put an end to the spending binge in Washington, D.C., and return to an era of fiscal responsibility,” he said in a statement that was released at the same time as the letter. “It's imperative that we live up to the promise we made in the 'Pledge to America' to cut $100 billion in spending by returning to 2008 spending levels. These cuts represent the first step, not the last, toward addressing the looming debt crisis facing our country.”

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, chairman of the RSC, tossed in his two cents, saying, “Every dollar we do not spend today reduces the debt our children will have to repay tomorrow. The future of American prosperity rests on whether Washington confronts the growing debt crisis with necessary spending cuts. Now is the time to show our resolve and begin to cut spending immediately.” [Read more about the deficit and national debt.]

It's an important fight, but one that speaks to the health of the new majority rather than to its weakness. Whether or not they are able to actually cut $100 billion from the FY 2011 budget, the pressure the RSC is putting on the leadership means the debate over spending cuts will remain at the front of the line, right up there with the need to take actions that facilitate rather than retard job creation.

  • See a roundup of political cartoons on the economy.
  • Take the poll: Should the GOP's $2.5 trillion in suggested cuts become law?
  • Follow the money in Congress.