Will Republicans seize the moment?
Now is the time for the House Republicans to challenge President Obama to cut spending by voting to slash non-defense discretionary spending by the full $100 billion they promised in their 2010 campaign!
The Republican leadership needs to make a bold statement and send Obama a bill that sticks in his big-spending throat. If the Senate won't pass it or the president threatens a veto, even better. Obama's approval ratings — recently rising to 51 percent from 41 percent in the past two months according to the Fox News poll — will fall back down again, and lower, if he gets into a fight against cutting government spending. The Republicans in the House will have called his bluff about moving to the center and will force the kind of fiscal belt-tightening they heralded during the campaign.
And if the government has to operate in a state of crisis, with continuing resolutions keeping it funded day after day, so much the better! It will call attention to how intractable the Democrats are in resisting any cut in spending.
On March 4, the federal government runs out of money. The continuing resolutions under which the government has been operating expire then. Since no budget was ever adopted by the Democratic Congress last year (so nobody would add up the numbers), when the resolution ends, so does all funding.
Republicans should seize this opportunity to demand major cuts in spending. House Republicans, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed a cut that, on an annualized basis, would reduce the budget by $100 billion below what Obama requested for 2012.
But, since Obama never got his budget passed — and there is only half a fiscal year left — the actual amount of Ryan's cuts come to a paltry $35 billion below what was actually spent for half a year under the ancien regime.
That's not enough. Ryan, recognizing this, has repeatedly said that his initial pass at budget-cutting is just a first step and that he will come back again and again and again with more cuts.
But Ryan, despite his sincerity and good intentions, misses the point: In this first go-round with Obama, the Republican House should reach for the sky. By low-balling their budget proposal, they create the illusion that they are just tinkering with the budget, rather than really cutting it. Conservatives, tea party activists and GOP voters will be disappointed, and a rift may develop within the party.
Ryan and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., need to come in with a set of budget cuts that give the impression of real reductions. Rogers announced that he will try to find an extra $26 billion of cuts, bringing the total to $61 billion. But $61 billion is still short of the $100 billion the GOP promised. Sure, on an annualized basis, it comes to $100 billion, but so what?
One hundred billion dollars should mean $100 billion. Not $35 billion or $61 billion. But $100 billion of cuts!
This is the GOP's moment. Don't blow it!