House GOP freshmen poised to push immediate spending cuts above leadership’s goals

Jon Ward Contributor
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The massive House Republican freshman class is poised to make their presence felt for the first time in the next few weeks, and will likely push immediate spending cuts above the goal set by House Speaker John Boehner.

The head of a large conservative bloc within the House GOP said Monday that he is going to push his party — when debate begins over a bill to fund the government through September – to cut the $100 billion in non-defense discretionary spending they promised in the fall.

“We’re at a point in American history where it’s so serious that if we don’t put it forward we’re being irresponsible,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and head of the Republican Study Committee.

Boehner, Ohio Republican, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, have said they will cut much more than $100 billion before the 2011 calendar year is over, but have stuck with a smaller figure for the upcoming fight over spending in the continuing resolution to fund the government from March 4 to the end of the 2011 fiscal year.

The CR is needed because Democrats failed to pass a budget in the fall.

The cuts so far supported by Boehner and Cantor amount to roughly $60 billion in the 2011 fiscal year. They argue that their promise to cut $100 billion in September’s “Pledge to America” was based on a full fiscal year, which will be almost half over by the time the current continuing resolution expires on March 4.

The CR will be introduced next week into the House Appropriations Committee and will come to the full House floor for consideration and debate the week of Feb. 14. It will be the first major spending fight of the year.

But Jordan, in an interview Monday, rejected the argument that the cuts should be limited to what the leadership refers to as 2008 levels.

“While I guess I understand that reasoning to some degree, I think the American people heard $100 billion, and the deficit is a record high $1.5 trillion,” he said. “We think it’s critical that you actually get to $100 billion in savings in this fiscal year, so we’re going to be pushing for that.”

And sources with some knowledge of how many in the freshman class plan to vote said the hard $100 billion figure has broad support among the 84 new lawmakers.

At a retreat this past weekend for conservative lawmakers at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, 20 or so freshman Republican members told Jordan they wanted him to push for the $100 billion in cuts.

“Those freshman are going to hold out. That was their message to Jim Jordan out there,” said one Republican operative who attended the meetings.

Jordan gave a similar account of a recent meeting with freshmen members.

“Freshmen were fired up about it. They said, ‘Heck yes we should!’” Jordan said of the $100 billion in cuts.

The RSC is the organizing umbrella for the House GOP’s most conservative members, and with the influx of a massive new class of freshmen members, the group’s membership has swelled from 115 last Congress to over 170 now.

Spokesmen for Boehner and Cantor reiterated that the cuts in the CR are just the first step, leading up to the budget proposal they’ll propose for the 2012 fiscal year starting in October.

“The Speaker has said there is no limit to the spending cuts we will consider. The initial goal is to cut spending to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus levels – but that will be the beginning, not the end, of our efforts to stop Washington’s spending binge and create jobs,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said the majority leader wanted to bring spending “down to 2008 levels or less in the coming CR.”

Dayspring added that the open rule process allowing amendments, which was usually now allowed under the Democratic-controlled House, “empowers any member — especially those in the RSC — to cut additional spending by offering their own amendments.”

“Leader Cantor looks forward to supporting many of those amendments designed to cut spending and grow jobs, and the House will work its will,” Dayspring said. “This is a starting point, certainly not an ending point.”

But the House GOP has begun to take its lumps from grassroots conservative activists and powerful interest groups in Washington over the issue of whether to cut $100 billion in the next weeks or not.

Russ Vought, a former RSC executive director who is now political director at the Heritage Action for America, an arm of the Heritage Foundation, wrote on the popular conservative blog Redstate that the GOP leadership parsing over what they meant by $100 billion back in September was besides the point.

“Is there some room for interpretation as to what was intended by the ‘first year’? Sure. But more importantly, why are House Leaders nickel and diming the American taxpayer when we’re facing a $1.5 trillion budget deficit?” Vought wrote. “Given the fiscal straits that we’re in as a country, why not demand that the $100 billion (as promised) is a down payment in FY 2011 and demand even more in FY 2012? That would be leadership.”

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