House Republicans scrambled Friday to finish work on a bill that will keep the government open beyond March 4th, while also. The House Appropriations Committee plans to release the bill later today after agreeing yesterday to increase spending cuts by around $25 billion in order to satisfy new freshmen who feel they were elected with a mandate to trim the fat from government.
Republicans expect to take up the bill, known as a Continuing Resolution, on Tuesday of next week. The debate will last at least three days. The bill will include $60 billion in cuts based on current spending or $100 billion based on President's FY 2011 budget request.
The debate will be long because House Republicans will allow nearly unlimited amendments. Members will have to file and print amendments early in the week to be considered, however, and if an amendment seeks to restore a spending cut, it will likely be required that spending be cut elsewhere.
The top Democrat on Appropriations, Norm Dicks (D-WA) said this afternoon that part of the package will include $15 billion in defense cuts. That's based on the President's FY 2011 budget request, which was $530 billion. Dicks supports those cuts, but will oppose the overall package because he says it "will do a lot of damage and it isn't going to achieve its objective" of improving the economy.
Dicks also said that the earlier GOP number of $32 billion in cuts would have had a better chance in the Senate and could even have attracted Blue Dog Democrats.
Appropriations Committee member Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) said of the cuts that "the majority is coming from the EPA." When asked how the Department of Energy fared he said "it's not pretty."
Freshmen are saying that this $100 billion number is just the beginning. Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) said he hopes that after the Continuing Resolution and the debt ceiling debates are finished, that the House will enact spending caps. Rep. Allen West (R-FL) said he would not support any package with cuts under $100 billion.
Once the measure passes the House, it will go to the Senate - where we can expect many of the spending cuts to be stripped out. The House and Senate will have to work out some kind of compromise by March 4th to prevent a government shutdown. House members did not rule out the possibility of needing to pass short-term spending bills to keep the government running while the two chambers work out differences.
Right after passing the bill next week, members will go home for the President's Day recess and will likely have to defend certain cuts to programs that may be popular in their districts. One GOP aide said that this reality check could make it more likely that members will be ready to compromise with the Senate on spending when they return to Washington.