John Boehner and Eric Cantor
ready to renege.
The signals have been being sent
for weeks that House Republicans were ready to threaten, again, a government shutdown by reneging on the budget deal they agreed to last August during the debt limit deal. All that was to be determined was the extent to which they were going to break it. And now we know
WASHINGTON, March 13 (Reuters) - Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are ready to break a hard-fought budget deal with Democrats as they try to quell a revolt by conservatives who are insisting on deeper spending cuts ahead of the November elections.
House Republican aides said on Tuesday that House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor were pressing for a modest $19 billion reduction of discretionary spending caps in this year's Republican budget plan.
The agreement—passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by President Obama—called for a $1 trillion limit on discretionary spending for fiscal 2013. That extra $19 billion might be "modest" compared to what the crazies in the Republican caucus are pushing for, $116 billion, but it's still enough of a chunk of dangerous cuts to make Democrats say no way, no how. There's also the fact that they are breaking the agreement, which Democrats absolutely oppose on principle as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned this week
“This wasn’t a handshake, it was a law we passed,” Reid told reporters on Tuesday at a weekly Capitol briefing. “And now, the Republican right wing in the House is trying to change the agreement we made as a matter of law. I guess they love government shutdowns, or at least the threat of them … If they renege on the law, the agreement, they’ll be forcing yet another government shutdown and a fight with the American people. That’s ridiculous.”
But there's another problem
for House leadership:
$19 billion in cuts is not likely to be deep enough to draw the support of the most conservative Republicans, especially those backed by the conservative Tea Party movement.
"I'd say that's probably not going to be enough for my boss," said an aide to a congressman involved in the budget negotiations who is a senior member of the conservative Republican Study Committee. The group pressed for a considerably lower cap of $931 billion.
It's deja vu all over again. House Republican leadership is going to be led by the nose again by a minority in their caucus who will never be satisfied as long as one government agency (other than the Pentagon) is functioning. They'll be led into another disastrous government shutdown fight. They've been on the losing side of these battles long enough for Boehner, at least, to understand the damage done to the party, but he seems helpless to fight them and has come up with a compromise that won't get him anywhere. Even if he can cobble together enough votes in the House, this budget will be rejected by the Senate.
Democrats can and should be using this to hammer Republicans relentlessly: they are breaking an agreement, they are breaking settled law, at a time when the country wants investment rather than cuts. Democrats need to hold the line on the existing spending cuts, and rebuffing the efforts of Rep. Steny Hoyer, et al. to push for deeper cuts.