WASHINGTON -- House Republicans made their latest in a series of symbolic gestures on Monday evening by moving forward with a two-page resolution to reduce "non-security" spending to 2008 levels--or less--putting thousands of government programs on a potential chopping block with no specifics on what or how much would be cut. The rule for the resolution passed 240-160, with eight Democrats joining with Republicans to support the plan. A final vote on the resolution will be held tomorrow.
Democrats blasted the effort as a meaningless political stunt, noting that Republicans chose to move forward before the Congressional Budget Office releases estimates on exactly what funding would need to be cut. "If this was a serious effort, there would be numbers," said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.). "This is about issuing a press release after the State of the Union."
Although Republicans said they would immediately focus on jobs after taking over Congress earlier this month, many of their actions have been merely symbolic gestures. Last week's vote to repeal health care reform, for instance, will wither in the Senate under Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Still, House Republicans passed their third piece of statement legislation by moving ahead with the resolution. Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who introduced the resolution, said the cuts wouldn't mean the end of cancer research or other "important programs," but failed to get into specifics. "There is no one in this body who wants to gut funding for important programs for our veterans or education, child nutrition," Dreier said. "This is merely the first step in an ongoing effort to bring our budget back into the black."
McGovern requested an exemption from the cuts for the FBI's counterterrorism spending, while Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) questioned what the bill would mean for funding for cancer research under the National Institute of Health. "No one knows exactly what's going to be cut," Andrews said. "We get verbiage, but no answer."
Democrats also decried Republicans' decision to reject amendments, particularly one that would have put all spending, not just non-defense spending, up for budget cuts. "I understand why they don't want an amendment, because it would reveal the grave flaw," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said. "We have got tens of thousands of millions of dollars that we are spending subsidizing our allies in Europe and Asia. The argument that you exempt military spending from budgetary discipline is one of the reasons we're in the hole that we're in."
If House Republicans have their way, cuts could go even further. "2008 levels is just a start, and we need to go much deeper than that," Republican Tim Scott, a freshman from South Carolina, said during the debate.
Another conservative Republican, Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey, sent a letter on Monday to Speaker John Boehner urging $100 billion in cuts by the end of September.
Although Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Republican leaders would be willing to push for deeper cuts, he told reporters on Monday that the party would first attempt to cut funding to 2008 levels. "We're going to deliver the reduction of spending to '08 levels or less," he said. "If the will of the House is such to deliver on 2006 levels, then so be it."