House GOP Leaders Set to Cut Spending

Leadership Shake-Up Spurred Policy Shift (WaPo)

The WashingtonPost has a front page article on how the (temporary?) ouster from House Majority Leader Tom “there is no pork in the budget” DeLay has become an opportunity for the Republican Study Committee (RSC) to call for fiscal restraint and offsets to pay for Hurricane Katrina.

House Republican leaders have moved from balking at big cuts in Medicaid and other programs to embracing them, driven by pent-up anger from fiscal conservatives concerned about runaway spending and the leadership’s own weakening hold on power.

Beginning this week, the House GOP lawmakers will take steps to cut as much as $50 billion from the fiscal 2006 budget for health care for the poor, food stamps and farm supports, as well as considering across-the-board cuts in other programs.

Interesting lead, implying the proposed cuts go mostly after a Democratic base (plus farm subsidies, which have been low-lying fruit (in the House that is, different story in the Senate) for budget cuts for years).

DeLay told a packed room of reporters on Sept. 13 that 11 years of Republican rule had already pared down the federal budget “pretty good.” If lawmakers had suggestions for cuts, DeLay said he would listen, but he was not offering anything up.

But faced with a revolt among many conservatives sharply critical of him for resisting spending cuts, DeLay three weeks later told a closed meeting of the House Republican Conference, “I failed you,” according to a number of House members and GOP aides. Then, in a nod to the most hard-core conservatives, DeLay volunteered, “You guys filled a void in the leadership.”

The abrupt shift reflects a changed political dynamic in the House in which a faction of fiscal conservatives — known as the Republican Study Committee, or RSC — has gained the upper hand because of DeLay’s criminal indictment in Texas, widespread criticism of the Republicans’ handling of Hurricane Katrina, and uncertainty over the future of the leadership, according to lawmakers and aides.

This has the potential to be a larger long-term political issue for DeLay and the GOP than the probably politically-motivated Texas indictment against him. We may be finally seeing a sea-change in the House Republican priorities and goals.

A revolt has been stirring within the House GOP ranks for months. Fiscal conservatives had accepted an expanded federal role in education enshrined in President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, had lost a fight to block the Medicare prescription drug benefit — the largest entitlement expansion since Lyndon Johnson was president — and had even embraced the mammoth transportation law that passed this summer with a record-shattering number of pork-barrel projects.

Since Bush came to office, federal spending had grown by a third, from $1.86 trillion to $2.47 trillion, while record budget surpluses turned to record deficits. Conservative activists, led by talk show hosts and opinion columnists, had begun pressing Republicans hard on what they saw as Big Government Conservatism.

It should come as no surprise that TEA-LU (Transportation Bill) is given as an example of pork, nor that the President’s education efforts, greatly expanding the role of the Dept of Ed over the local school boards, is given as the Federal role expansion — because they are. But most large bills (just look at the recently passed Energy Bill) are filled with special interest items, always have been, but the proportion has been growing.

One member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Republicans joked that one of the cuts could not be the president’s proposed mission to Mars, because DeLay was already up there. . . .

But two confidants of DeLay, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to not jeopardize their relationship with the still-powerful Texan, said he now knows he and other Republican leaders stirred up a hornet’s nest that day.

“He screwed up,” one of the confidants said of DeLay’s comments. “People were completely taken aback. That more than anything else was the reason Republicans were upset.”

The events of Sept. 13 ricocheted through conservative talk shows, the Internet and newspaper columns, where Republicans were taking a beating from the right.

This is the only possible discussion of the “Porkbusters” effort on the Internet. I see Porkbusters as important in this discussion mostly from the political awareness angle, showing every District can offer up something, but it is only a start because the big money is mostly elsewhere, not in the local “bike†path or parking structure (though the bridges in Alaska are a different matter). It opens the door, but there is a big room inside.

It looks like DeLays absurd comments have finally opened the doors to the rational discussion of the expansion of the Federal government̢۪s responsibilities, entitlement expansion, and pork. They may have also have reduced his chances to return to his House Majority seat if the indictment goes nowhere.
The “rebellion” may stop the recent trend of some Democratic Party Representatives to appear more fiscally conservative than the GOP. If anything, this has brought the GOP fiscal conservative issues to the forefront of discussion; perhaps it also will bring them to the forefront of legislative action as well.

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Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.


  1. Anderson says:

    Leaving aside any partisan implementation, this will be an interesting effort to watch.

    The classic problem with democracy is that it leaves The Many in charge of the public treasury. Has the general political apathy of said Many made it possible for The Few to cut public spending significantly without waking up the sleeping masses?

  2. Anderson says:

    Note also that Brad DeLong suggests the story is misleading.

    Weisman writes in the Post:

    Beginning this week, the House GOP lawmakers will take steps to cut as much as $50 billion from the fiscal 2006 budget for health care for the poor, food stamps and farm supports, as well as considering across-the-board cuts in other programs.

    DeLong comments:

    But if you read to the end of the article–and if you understand budget concepts and reporting conventions–you can see that Weisman’s announcement that the House Leadership has changed course and wants a new “cut… $50 billion from the fiscal 2006 budget” is… strange. It seems that Speaker “Hastert… announce[d] that… cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and farm supports would be raised from $35 billion to $50 billion.” So it’s a $15 billion change in direction–not $50. And it’s not in the fiscal year 2006 budget. The original $35 that has been topped-off to $50 are cumulative “entitlement cuts over five years”–originally $7 and now $10 in each of the next five years.

    So we’re not talking about a $50 billion cut relative to baseline in entitlement spending for fiscal year 2006. We’re talking about a $3 billion cut.

    More talk than substance??? Sounds wildly unlikely–we are, of course, dealing with our nation’s premier statesmen–but perhaps it’s not entirely inconceivable.

    IIRC, this isn’t the first time that Weisman has set DeLong’s teeth to gnashing over his (W’s) willingness to turn press releases into journalism.

  3. Scott in CA says:

    Just a tiny point – expect loud wailing from the Dems over the “cuts to the poor”. Nonsense. I work in the welfare “industry” here in California. In this state, counties are allowed to put their Medicaid (for the poor) clients into managed care, such as HMO’s. It has saved tens of millions of dollars. Other counties and some states still let their Medicaid clients go to as many doctors, for as many appointments, as they like, even when they are clearly unnecessary. If Congress would mandate managed care for Medicaid, it could save hundreds of millions of dollars, without doing any harm to anyone. It’s the same managed care the rest of us have thru work healthcare.

  4. Herb says:

    I’ll beleive it when I see it

  5. ken says:

    Scott, not every state has managed care plans that can replace traditional fee for service providers. Try to get a doctor in Wyoming or Montana or New Mexico to sign up for managed care and you’ll be laughed right out of their office. I doubt if you could find any major market in America where managed care is not the dominant form of medical insurance already. You will have to find some other way to cut costs as this one has been worked to death already.