WASHINGTON - The Republican-led House today passed a resolution in favor of cutting the day-to-day budgets for domestic Cabinet agencies back to the levels in place before President Barack Obama won the White House.
The nonbinding resolution to bring federal budgets to 2008 levels passed 256 to 165. It promises to cut close to 20 percent from the budgets for agencies like the Education and Commerce departments when Congress wraps up the long-overdue budget for the current fiscal year. The White House warns that such cuts would mean furloughs of tens of thousands of federal workers.
"The time to exercise our power of the purse with discipline and restraint is long overdue," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif. "We must return to pre-bailout, pre-binge levels of funding for the federal government."
The actual GOP cuts would be made in a follow-up spending bill slated to advance next month and are sure to encounter strong resistance from the Democratic-controlled Senate and from President Obama.
Republicans say the measure is the first step in keeping a campaign promise to cut $100 billion from Mr. Obama's budget for the current year. The actual savings would be less - about $84 billion - since President Obama's budget increases were never passed. And because the budget year has been underway since Oct. 1, GOP leaders say they can't deliver the cuts by the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year; instead, they say they will spread them over a full calendar year.
Even that is not sufficient for many House conservatives. Almost 100 conservatives Monday wrote House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging him to cut the full amount over the final seven months of fiscal 2011 - a prospect the White House warns would require slashing agency budgets by almost one-third, leading to the massive furloughs and the gutting of critical programs and agencies.
House Republicans need to resolve the split before they can carry the fight to Senate Democrats and President Obama.
Even newly-elected conservatives may recoil when they see the specific cuts that would be required to fulfill the promise: smaller Pell Grants, less aid to hometown school districts, and cuts to NASA that could cost jobs in GOP-leaning Texas and Alabama.
Democrats say that while they agree with the need to wrestle the budget under control, it's unwise to slash the budget immediately since the economic recovery is just taking hold. At the same time, they're ready to defend programs aimed at helping the poor, such as subsidized housing, food aid for low-income pregnant women and heating subsidies.