The Obama administration responded Sunday to House Republicans’ plan for slashing more than $60 billion in federal discretionary spending during the remainder of this fiscal year.
“We look forward to working with Congress,” Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew said on CNN’s “State of the Union” talk show. That was all that host Candy Crowley could get out of Lew, despite prodding him several times for a substantive answer.
In the bill released Friday night, the House GOP proposed whacking hundreds of agencies and programs to the tune of $69 billion in comparison to last year’s budgets; the one big exception would be the Defense Department, which would receive an $8.1 billion increase, meaning that the net cut in discretionary spending would come in around $61 billion. For anyone who’s counting, the Republican plan would mean an approximately 10 percent in overall non-defense discretionary spending compared to last year.
The House legislation would replace a stop-gap continuing resolution in effect until March 4 that generally leaves agency spending levels frozen at last year’s levels.
Expect a barn-burner of a lobbying battle to begin this week as interest groups and stakeholders rally in defense of cherished programs. Don’t expect lockstep support for all of the proposed cuts even from House Republicans; as Federal Times reported last month, GOP lawmakers are balking at some modest long-term military reductions proposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Democratic pushback to the Republican plan has already begun. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, called the GOP approach “ineffective,”; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., labeled it “irresponsible.”
On Sunday, Lew was more eager to roll out the talking points on the administration’s fiscal 2012 budget request, set for release tomorrow. Obama, of course, has already signaled that he will seek a five-year freeze on non-defense discretionary spending. Lew put the 10-year savings from the administration’s draft at $1.1 trillion, adding that scores of programs would be cut.
“This is a very difficult budget,” Lew said. While the federal government has to start living within its means “it’s not possible to do it painlessly,” he added.
“We’re going to make tough choices.”