So, How Much Would Republicans Cut Spending?

In the Pledge to America released this past fall, House Republicans called for "[rolling] back government spending to pre-stimulus, prebailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt."

That original estimate of $100 billion was based on 2011 projections as shown in the President's budget, since lawmakers failed to pass a budget resolution this year. Additionally, Congress has not passed any of the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund government this fiscal year, forcing lawmakers to rely on Continuing Resolutions (CRs) to provide temporary funding for discretionary programs at last year's levels. Since we're already several months into FY 2011 and the current CR is set to expire on March 4th, bringing discretionary spending levels back down to 2008 levels for the remainder of the fiscal year won't save as much as Republicans initially projected.

If House Repubicans succeed in enacting discretionary funding at the 2008 levels for the remainder of FY 2011, overall spending would fall roughly in between the 2008 and 2010 levels. Instead of saving about $100 billion when compared to the President's budget, savings would total somewhere around $60 billion compared to the President's budget. The numbers in the table below are rough estimates and are in line with press accounts reporting that savings would now be down to "perhaps $50 or $60 billion".

It appears that since Republicans are sticking to the $1,029 billion level threshold from 2008 instead of the $100 billion in savings relative to the President's budget, they will also work to keep discretionary spending at the FY 2008 levels for FY 2012 as well. Here's a quote from a congressional Appropriations aide:

"The goal of FY11 is to get as close as we can to FY08 spending, given that the year is half done. Going forward, we are headed to FY08 in the FY12 spending bills."

 FY 2011 Spending Level
Budget Authority (Billions) Savings (compared to President's proposed FY2011 level) Savings (compared to FY2011 CR level)
2008 Discretionary Level (House Republican Target) $1,029 $101 $69
2010 Discretionary Level for 1st Half of Year, followed by 2008 Discretionary Level for Remaining Months $1,064 $66 $34
2010 Discretionary Level (CR Level) $1,098 $32 $0
Proposed 2011 Level in President's Budget $1,130 $0 -$32

Note: Estimates in the table for budget authority and savings are rough approximations, given other small adjustments to budget authority levels throughout the year and that spending over a year is not exactly linear.

Republicans could have either stuck with the "$100 billion in savings" approach, which House Republican leaders stated in their pledge and as recently as December, or they could have worked to enact spending levels for the remainder of FY2011 (after the CR expires) at 2008 levels. The first approach would have required cutting twice as much non-security discretionary spending in the second half of this year to achieve the $100 billion target. As stated above, they are embracing the second option.

Exercising spending constraint (including discretionary restraint) is absolutely critical for the long-term fiscal health of the country, and we applaud these efforts by House Republicans to seriously examine non-security spending. However, if we are to truly gain control of long-term spending, other areas of the budget must receive the same scrutiny, including defense spending and all mandatory spending programs; non-security spending constitutes only about 15 percent of all federal spending. With future deficits reaching as far as the eye can see, any serious attempt to control our massive debt will require close examination of other areas of the budget as well.