House Republicans Talk Big But Can’t Deliver Actual Spending Cuts

Brian Beutler has a entertaining little story today about the failure of House Republicans to pass an appropriations bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. Yes, I said entertaining. You have to be a lefty political junkie to see the entertainment value, but that’s what most of you are, right?

So then: as we all know, Paul Ryan produces a budget every year. It’s a conservative’s wet dream because it slashes domestic spending across the board but never says exactly where those spending cuts are going to come from. So the tea partiers can all fantasize about huge budget reductions without having to figure out which programs they actually want to cut:

But many close Congress watchers — and indeed many Congressional Democrats — have long suspected that their votes for Ryan’s budgets were a form of cheap talk. That Republicans would chicken out if it ever came time to fill in the blanks. Particularly the calls for deep but unspecified domestic discretionary spending cuts.

Today’s Transportation/HUD failure confirms that suspicion. Republicans don’t control government. But ahead of the deadline for funding it, their plan was to proceed as if the Ryan budget was binding, and pass spending bills to actualize it — to stake out a bargaining position with the Senate at the right-most end of the possible.

But they can’t do it. It turns out that when you draft bills enumerating all the specific cuts required to comply with the budget’s parameters, they don’t come anywhere close to having enough political support to pass. Even in the GOP House. Slash community development block grants by 50 percent, and you don’t just lose the Democrats, you lose a lot of Republicans who care about their districts. Combine that with nihilist defectors who won’t vote for any appropriations unless they force the President to sign an Obamacare repeal bill at a bonfire ceremony on the House floor, and suddenly you’re nowhere near 218.

The lunatic wing of the Republican Party has long held views that are impossible to reconcile. This is one of them: they think they can slash spending without affecting anything useful. But it turns out that even their fellow Republicans don’t agree. They simply can’t cut spending as much as they want to. In March they passed the Ryan budget, with all of its gaudy promises. In July, the first time they tried to pass a Ryan-approved appropriations bill with actual numbers attached, they failed. And they failed even though this was really nothing more than a symbolic vote in the first place. It was just a starting point for further negotiations.

So now what? The tea partiers are true believers who refuse to compromise, and even the GOP’s adults refuse to engage in a normal give-and-take with the Senate over FY14 spending. They’re stuck, with Democrats smirking in the background and suggesting that if they want to be a governing party, maybe they should try some actual governing. It’s hard to say what’s next. 

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