A sizable bloc of conservative House Republicans are moving to keep GOP leadership from waffling on a pledge to cut $100 billion dollars in the 2011 fiscal year, the first sign of rank-and-file willingness to challenge new House Speaker John Boehner.
“We believe 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. Our first opportunity to do so will be upon us shortly,” said a letter sent to Boehner Jan. 20 by Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, and 89 other House Republicans.
Garrett, who chairs a budget and spending task force inside the conservative Republican Study Committee, pushed Boehner to fight for the $100 billion in spending cuts when Congress has to take up a measure in March to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in September.
Top House Republicans such as Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said earlier this month that despite a promise in their “Pledge to America” last fall, their immediate spending cuts would be closer to $55 or $65 billion.
Ryan said that Republicans had promised the $100 billion in cuts over the course of an entire fiscal year, which started in October. Now that the government is funded through March 4, Ryan said, the $100 billion figure would be downsized.
Cantor has consistently said that Republicans will cut more than $100 billion over the course of the 2011 calendar year. But Garrett and his fellow House conservatives told Boehner they want the $100 billion out of the budget now, rather than over the course of the year.
“Despite the added challenge of being four months into the current fiscal year, 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,” the letter says.
“In order to regain the trust and confidence of the American public, 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,” Garrett said in a statement accompanying the letter.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, resisted the push, saying his party’s “pledge” was only for spending levels, not a specific amount.
“Our immediate goal is to cut spending to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus levels. That’s what we pledged, and that’s what we’ll fight for,” he said.
But Steel added that the initial cuts are only the first battle in an ongoing war with Democrats over spending.
“That will be the beginning, not the end, of our efforts to cut spending and create jobs,” Steel said.
Finally, Steel added a conciliatory note regarding Boehner’s view of the first major challenge from the rank-and-file of his conference. “The Speaker appreciates every Member’s input,” Steel said.
Erica Elliott, a spokeswoman for GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy, said the letter “shows that many of our Members are committed to coming up with ideas to cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, in order to fulfill our pledge to America.”
Boehner and GOP leadership took heavy criticism from Tea Party groups when they revealed earlier this month that the spending cut would not actually equal $100 billion right away.
“I actually don’t think it would be possible to fall from grace any faster than this,” Mark Meckler, with the Tea Party Patriots, told The Daily Caller.
The spending cut amount and the looming vote on the debt ceiling illustrate the tension between GOP leaders and conservatives, including a large group of freshman members swept into power in part by energy from the Tea Party.
Jon Ward contributed to this report.