The new 112th Congress, politically reshaped and redirected by the voters, reopened for business this week to tackle some old and vexing issues. Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, who rose from poverty to become the Speaker of the House, is setting about to deliver on his party's campaign pledge to curb out-of-control spending, accelerate job creation, boost economic growth and repeal Obamacare.
But Boehner, who has kept a low profile since Republicans won a net gain of 63 seats to take control of the House, is under no illusions about the power that has been thrust upon him and his party. He has said since election night that if they do not deliver on their promises, the voters can and will fire them in the next election.
Among the GOP's biggest promises, cutting spending is their most daunting challenge. Their goal is to roll back spending to 2008 levels, beginning with the remaining months of this fiscal year, which could see $60 billion in additional budget cuts. Democrats say it can't be done. Republican leaders say just watch us, starting with Congress's own multi-billion dollar budget. This week Republicans began by cutting funding for 435 legislative offices and all of the House committees by 5 percent, reserving the deepest cut -- 9 percent -- for the once-sacrosanct Appropriations Committee.
"Congress must begin immediately to reduce spending, and these budget cuts should start here and now -- in our own offices ... I have directed my own committee budget to be cut by nearly double the amount of reductions proposed for other House offices," said Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky, the new chairman of the panel.
Rogers' committee, whose members dished out $1.1 trillion in federal funds in 2010, also lost its most prized prerogative -- the power to unilaterally slip earmarked pork-barrel spending items into the 12 major funding bills that bankroll the federal government. "While those line items accounted for just 1 percent of discretionary federal spending, this surrender of power represents the end of an era in which the committee provided more than $10 billion for projects each year," writes Washington Post reporter Paul Kane.
The political makeup of the committee's once-undisputed barons was also changed by Boehner and his leadership. Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, a fierce critic of earmarks and spending levels, and three GOP freshmen budget hawks were added to the panel that saw its membership cut by nearly 20 percent. House Republican insiders say the GOP's government spending cuts will be wide and deep. But they are sure to run into a buzzsaw of opposition from Senate Democrats -- though maybe a little less than some are forecasting.