by Emily Miller
Congressional Democrats and President Obama are blocking every effort by Republicans to cut runaway government spending, leaving Washington at a stalemate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) even failed to pass a token spending cut last week. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) has fought any cut from current spending levels in a Continuing Resolution (CR). And, Obama announced for the second time that he will veto the Republican spending cuts, while he refuses even to negotiate with Congress on the budget.
After months of refusing to cut any spending, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) finally came out with a Democratic offer to cut spending for this current fiscal year by a mere $4.7 billion. The budget deficit for the current fiscal year is projected to be $1.6 trillion. So, the Senate Democrats’ spending cuts would lower the federal deficit by a mere .004%.
“At a time when Washington is borrowing about $4 billion a day, Democratic leaders want to cut about four and a half billion in government spending for the rest of the fiscal year and then call it a day,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.).
When the Democrats’ spending proposal came to the floor for a vote last week, Reid could not even keep his own Democrats on board because the spending cuts were so insignificant. When the Democratic alternative spending bill came to a vote in the Senate, 11 Democrats voted against it. The final vote was 42-58.
In contrast, the Republican House-passed Continuing Resolution (CR) which cuts government spending this year by $61 billion got more votes (44-56), but did not meet the 60-vote threshold needed to pass. McConnell held together all his Republicans for the CR (H.R. 1), except three who wanted even deeper cuts, Jim DeMint (S.C.) and freshmen Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.). So all of the Republicans in the Senate and 11 of the Democrats want to cut government spending this year, while Reid and other Democratic leaders fight to keep almost all the taxpayers’ money in Washington.
The Democratic House and Senate last year did not pass a budget or any of the appropriations bills. To keep the government from shutting down, McConnell and Obama negotiated a three-month CR in December. On February 19, the House Republicans passed a CR (H.R. 1) that cut $61 billion in government spending for the current fiscal year, which goes through September 30.
Reid at first refused to take up the House CR, calling the cuts “draconian,” and Obama said that he would veto the bill if it passed the Senate. So to keep the government funded after March 4, Congress had to pass a short-term CR. However, Boehner said that any short-term CR to keep the government funded while budget negotiations continued would have to include cuts in spending. Thus, the House passed a two-week CR last week that cuts spending by $4 billion and expires March 18.
While the Senate Democrats blocked the House CR, the House Democrats were claiming that they had already compromised on spending cuts. Pelosi said last week that the House Democrats “have, I repeat, have cut $41 billion from President Obama’s budget already.”
“We’ve come up more than halfway to meet the Republican proposals, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D.-Md.) told reporters this week.
But, the Democratic leaders’ saying that they had already cut spending is merely a reference to the December CR which was $41 billion less than Obama’s proposed budget, which was never enacted. So the House Democrats are not willing to cut a single penny from current spending, but claiming that they have already come “halfway”.
To be fair, the Democrats learned how to claim bigger spending-cut numbers from the example set by the House Republicans. When Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) first announced the CR in early February, he said that it met the Republicans’ “Pledge To America” by cutting spending back to 2008 levels and saving $100 billion from the President’s budget. But when the actual numbers were released, it was clear that Ryan’s CR did not bring spending back to 2008 levels and cut only $32 billion from current 2010 levels.
The House Republican leadership spent days trying to spin reporters by saying that the Pledge to cut $100 billion was always in reference to Obama’s proposed budget and was for a calendar year. But it was the backlash from the freshmen and the conservative wing that forced Speaker of the House John Boehner (R.-Ohio) to ask the Appropriations Committee to cut more discretionary spending. By the time the CR came to the floor for a vote, the Republicans had cut another $29 billion from this year’s spending.
So, the Democrats’ claim that their $41 billion is halfway to $100 billion means that both sides are citing non-existent cuts to hypothetical spending levels. Bottom line: Both sides are cooking the books to make their political points and improve their image with the public.
While the Senate debated the House spending bill last week, President Obama put out his second veto threat. The White House said that Obama would veto H.R. 1 if it passed the Senate because “the unbalanced bill would undermine the nation’s economic recovery and its ability to succeed in a complex global environment.”
Obama has now put out two veto threats, but has not participated at all in the negotiations with Congress on the budget.
“Where is the President?” asked an outraged Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.-Va.). “We continue to hear from him and the White House that, ‘We are going to meet you halfway.’ Well, where is the President?”
Instead, Obama named Vice President Joe Biden as his “chief negotiator” with congressional leaders on the CR. But, Biden left the country before the Senate vote to travel to went to Finland, Russia and Moldova.
“The Vice President is the main negotiator; the Vice President is not even in the country today. We have less than a week and a half to go. You ask the press secretary at the White House, ‘Well who’s the lead negotiator with the Vice President gone?’ ‘Can’t tell you that.”” said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R.-Calif.) last Wednesday.
Biden’s only involvement with the CR was to make phone calls to Boehner and McConnell. He tried calling Reid but they did not connect (There is more than one phone line on Air Force 2. I know; I’ve flown on it many times.)
So what are the next steps?
The House will vote on Tuesday on a three-week CR that will cut an additional $6 billion in spending. The House Republicans are putting the CR out a week earlier than the deadline in order to disarm the Democrats from making accusations of shutting down the government. The Senate and President are expected to go along with the new CR.
For the negotiations on the long-term CR to occur, Republicans insist that the Democrats have to come up with real spending cuts in order for them to negotiate down from the $61 billion level. But so far, the only offer on the table is the $61 billion from the House CR, which failed to pass the Senate last week.
“Where is the Senate Democrat plan? I’m not going to sit up here and negotiate with myself!” an indignant Boehner said last Thursday.
The negotiations between the House Republicans and Senate Democrats will have to resume, but the resolution and the final level of spending cuts is still unpredictable.