As Budget Talks Continue, Hard-Liners Get Support From Tea Party
Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times
Published: March 31, 2011
WASHINGTON — As House Republican leaders worked to cobble together a spending plan for this year that can win bipartisan support, their more conservative members made increasingly clear on Thursday that they consider a proposed $33 billion budget cut to be insufficient.
Even as Speaker John A. Boehnerurged Republicans to keep in mind that they would have additional opportunities in the coming weeks to cut long-term spending, some members of his caucus said they would be willing to accept a government shutdown if necessary to back up their demand for $61 billion in cuts for the current fiscal year.
“That’s pretty small,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, referring to the $33 billion spending reduction that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Wednesday evening was the target generally agreed to by both parties. “This is visible. People see this. You’ve got to have some significant cuts.”
At a two hour-plus Tea Party rally outside the Capitol, some members, raising their fists to the chants of “Cut it or shut it,” suggested they would stand firm.
“It’s time to pick a fight,” said Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, one of his party’s more combative supporters of smaller government. He added, “If liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and shut down the government instead of making a small down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, ‘Shut it down.’ “
Mr. Boehner was left dancing between the Senate Democrats, who have already demonstrated that the $61 billion spending cut cannot pass the Senate, and freshmen and other conservatives in the House pressuring him not to give any ground. During an eight-minute news conference Thursday, he said: “There’s no agreement. Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
Publicly, the showdown is now playing out through a hearty mix of political posturing, news conferences, angry words on the floor and threats of a shutdown.
But behind the scenes, staff members and senior law makers on the House and Senate appropriations committees are in the preliminary stages of figuring out precisely how a $33 billion cut would be spread across federal agencies over the balance of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Their work will continue as they await a determination of whether both sides can deliver the votes to finalize a deal and avert a government shutdown a week from Friday, when current financing authority expires.
Even if a deal can be reached and a shutdown averted, the two parties will then move on to potentially bigger fights over raising the national debt ceiling, cutting spending for next year and addressing the long-term growth of entitlement programs — a topic the House Budget Committee plans to put on the front burner in coming weeks.
The immediate question, though, remained whether Mr. Boehner could bring House Republicans along on a deal for a $33 billion cut. “If that’s the number, it ain’t good enough,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Iowa.
Outside the Capitol on a cold, damp afternoon, Tea Party activists from around the country warned that they would not accept less than a $100 billion cut from this year’s budget, and that there could be election consequences for those who did not heed their call.
Several lawmakers spoke at the rally, including Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, with raucous cheers following her every word, and the Republican Senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
A reporter from National Public Radio, which would lose its government money under a bill passed by the House, tried to interview a protester as a man in blue earmuffs shouted repeatedly behind her: “Cut NPR! Cut NPR!” Sprinkled among the roughly 300 attendees and their American flags and homemade posters demonizing Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, were a few Code Pink protesters protesting military intervention in Libya, and a young man handing out fliers for Tea Party Activist Boot Camp.
The morning began on the Hill with both the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, taking to the floor to make their case on the budget fight.
“Not a single child, not a single student, not a single teacher, not a single nurse, not a single police officer, not a single senior led us into this recession,” Mr. Reid said, assailing the vast number of cuts to federal spending offered by the House. “Not one, and punishing innocent bystanders will not lead us to a recovery. We’ll continue talking and continue working to find a middle ground.”
Mr. McConnell said the Tea Party activists gathering at the Capitol had sent a powerful message to Washington. “These folks are not radical,” he said, adding, “These are everyday men and women who love their country and don’t want to see it collapse.
Senate Republicans also began to roll out of a balanced budget amendment that would, among other things, require a two-thirds vote from both houses for any bill that raises taxes and a three-fifths vote from both houses to increase the debt limit.
While the focus is now on the spending plan to get through the rest of the year, it will pivot next week to the Republican’s plan for the 2012 fiscal year, which members who have worked on it say will offer major cuts to federal spending and entitlement programs particularly Medicaid.