House GOP cuts a tall order

By Deirdre Walsh and Jeanne Sahadi

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNNMoney) -- House Republicans on Thursday gave more clarity to the size of cuts they want to make in domestic spending this year.

Sort of.

They've been saying for months they want to cut $100 billion. But they will only have seven months of the fiscal year left to do so since the government is operating under a temporary spending measure that expires in March.

Hence, the House Budget Committee opted to call for $58 billion in cuts in non-security funding for the rest of the year. That is $58 billion compared to what they say was President Obama's request for fiscal year 2011.

But the GOP proposal would only cut about $32 billion when compared to the levels currently funding the government.

Cuts of either size would still be a tall order both politically and practically.

First, the politics: Anything passed by the GOP-controlled House would have to be approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama. Democrats are expected to argue among other things that such cuts could hurt the economy and cost jobs.

"The president's bipartisan Fiscal Commission cautioned against such immediate spending cuts, and economists like Mark Zandi have made the point that deep and immediate spending cuts proposed by Republicans could raise the unemployment rate back into double digits," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in a statement.

Then, of course, there will be plenty of fights within the House, given that some of the most conservative Republicans will still push for even more cuts.

"Many House members want to see at least $100 billion in non-security savings this fiscal year and will offer amendments to get there if necessary," Brian Straessle, spokesman for the House Republican Study Committee, said in a statement. With 175 members, the RSC makes up more than half of the GOP conference.

But even if Congress weren't divided -- and the GOP spoke with just one voice -- such cuts would be hard to achieve. Lawmakers haven't cut spending in a long time, largely because it's unpopular with the lobbyists and constituents who champion various programs.

What's more, the House Republicans are aiming the majority of their proposed cuts at the smallest part of the federal budget -- so-called non-security discretionary spending -- that accounts for much of what Americans associate with the federal government. That slice of the pie covers things like education, transportation, housing, drug safety and national parks.

Plus, it's still not clear which programs' funding would be cut. That's up to the Appropriations Committee, which is expected to put out details next week on its proposed cuts.

"We are going go line by line to weed out and eliminate unnecessary, wasteful or excess spending," House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said in a statement.

Of course, weeding out "unnecessary, wasteful, or excess spending" can be a subjective exercise, and one which many Democrats are almost certain to oppose.

Democrats are also expected to push back against any cuts that affect the agencies that must implement the new health care and Wall Street reform laws.

Agency officials say they need more money to carry out their new responsibilities.

The Appropriations Committee is expected to recommend cuts by the end of next week, and the House plans to vote on the 2011 budget the week of Feb. 14.

Rogers has signaled that the biggest proposed cuts would come in the areas of transportation, housing and urban development, state and foreign operations, financial services, and energy and water development.

To get a sense of how much $32 billion over seven months represents, consider how much that funded last year. In fiscal year 2010, $32 billion covered a third of the money that went to the Department of Education, about half of the funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Department of Transportation, or all of the funding for the Department of Energy.

Deirdre Walsh is a CNN Congressional producer. Jeanne Sahadi is a CNNMoney senior writer.  To top of page

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