House Budget Fail?

It's been an action packed week in Congress as the House tries to put together a $1.06 trillion spending bill to fund the operations of the federal government for the remaining seven months of the 2011 fiscal year. A divided Republican House caucus may be on their way to a huge tactical blunder that could result in a government shutdown or the failure of staying true to their pledge to massively cut federal spending.

The essential battle is between conservative Republicans and the even-more-conservative freshman Republicans who were elected into office last week with what they claim is a clear mandate to cut spending by $100 billion (from an unstated baseline from unstated budget accounts). Indeed, one of the most cited passages of the Republicans' election platform document -- A Pledge to America -- promises that Republican fiscal policies, if enacted, will "save us at least $100 billion in the first year alone."

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee announced that it would set spending levels for FY 2011 at $74 billion President Obama's FY 2011 request, which, incidentally, was never enacted; these levels are actually $35 billion less than what was spent in 2010. However, the day before House appropriators rolled out the legislative language that would make these cuts happen, a bloc of even-more-conservatives stated that they would refuse to play ball unless the magic $100 billion number was met.

And that's what's driving the mad dash to today's continuing resolution, which according to House Appropriations chair Hal Roegers (R-KY), will be at levels $100 below the president's FY 2011 request, or $61 billion below last year's levels.

The divide in the House can all be traced back to the public sentiment reveled by this poll. You see, Americans want to reduce the deficit through spending cuts generally, but they don't want to reduce spending for most of the things the federal government does.

So, while the slash-and-burn frosh representatives are champing at the bit to drastically pare back federal spending, the non-rabid House Republicans have their eyes on these poll numbers, trying not to be tarred as pro-crime, anti-child, anti-food safety, anti pretty much everything. Interestingly, though, less-extreme House conservatives believe that $35 billion in cuts (from FY 2010), which include reducing the FBI's budget by $74 million, nutrition for children and pregnant women by $758 million, and food safety inspections by $53 million, are reasonable, is acceptable, while cutting $61 billion would be going to far.

These same House Republicans were banking on similar logic prevailing in the Democratic-controlled Senate. They believe that the initial proposal could have been swallowed by a Senate thinking about 2012 electoral chances, but anything deeper would put the gulf between the two chambers far too wide for compromise. Instead, House Republicans should now fear that the new levels are too far from what the Senate is willing to deal on and even too deep for Americans who don't want to see cuts in budgets for local police, health research, food safety, weather forecasting, or anything else that are now on the chopping block.

The Senate will likely reject the House's new offer, leaving the House with the choice of continuing to fund the government at FY 2010 levels for a month (or even longer) or digging in their heals to force a government shutdown if their demands aren't met.

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