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Not Much Left to Cut

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Herman Cain, Joe Paterno and President Obama’s “hot mic” bashing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dominated the news last week. Underreported and significantly more important was news federal spending increased in 2011 by $145 billion. That’s right, federal spending is still going up.

Just over a year ago, conservatives around the country rejected President Obama’s big-government agenda. Prior to the election, House Republicans pledged to “roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.” Unfortunately, President Obama and his big-government allies did not share that goal, making real spending cuts hard to enact.

Conservatives gave Republicans control of the U.S. House with the understanding those Republicans would stop President Obama’s agenda in its tracks and begin laying the groundwork for repealing it come 2013. But now, when it comes to spending, some lawmakers seem unwilling to even try. According to Roll Call, “Republican leadership sources” now “concede there is not much left in the domestic discretionary spending pot to cut.”

Read that again: “not much left to cut.”

Earlier this year, House Republicans passed a fiscal year 2012 budget drafted by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), which would have capped discretionary spending at $1.019 trillion. That would have represented a year-over-year decrease in discretionary spending of about $30 billion. Earlier this year, House Republicans – at least those on the budget committee – had identified the cuts.

Now, after this summer’s debt deal, 2012 spending is expected to surpass last year’s spending by several billion dollars. As some have observed, that will place discretionary spending ABOVE stimulus-era levels. For conservatives, November 2010 was about holding the line, not moving the line higher.

Of the spending increases, Congressman Tom Latham (R-IA), a senior appropriator and close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), told Roll Call “It’s a done issue. Whether you like it or not, it’s what it is.” That answer is unlikely to satisfy conservatives. A quick look at federal spending reveals plenty of places to cut.

The Heritage Foundation outlined more than $340 billion in spending reductions in fiscal year 2012 alone! Just a few examples: $8 billion by returning Pell Grants to their 2009 funding level, which is still twice as much as the 2007 level; $6.5 billion by reducing energy subsidies for commercialization and various research activities; $1.2 billion by suspending the acquisition of federal office space and land purchases; $625 million by eliminating the State Department’s education and cultural exchange programs; and, $398 million by eliminating the legal services corporation. The list goes on and on.

In Washington, the lack of willingness to tackle our nation’s spending problem inevitably leads to the suggestion that we need to increase taxes. And sure enough, last week, Republicans on the congressional “super committee” proposed a net tax increase of $300 billion. A senior Senate Republican aide noted the offer was a “concession” and “a significant change.”

Democrats did not waste any time pouncing on the flip-flop. A Democrat leadership aide commented that Republicans have “effectively shifted their position” by “saying that tax reform does not have to be revenue-neutral.” Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, declared it “a breakthrough that can lead to an agreement.”

Politico, an inside-the-beltway publication, characterized the “GOP strategy [as] partly practical: The math on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction just works better with some version of revenue increases.” But placing a $300 billion tax increase on the table is bad negotiating, bad policy and bad politics, especially when combined with a seeming unwillingness to pursue additional discretionary spending cuts.

With less than a year before the 2012 elections, let’s look at the politics.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found 57% of respondents disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the economy. Conservatives need to ensure Republicans in Congress are painting in bold, bright colors. Americans respond favorably when they do.

This past summer, Congressional Republicans were talking about spending cuts and the need to leverage the debt ceiling to rein in government spending. It was a message that resonated with the American people.

NBC/WSJ asked registered voters their preference for the outcome of next year’s congressional elections. In August, after demonstrating some principled opposition to the status quo, voters preferred a Republican-controlled Congress by a 6-point margin, levels not seen since 1997. It was also the last time the poll found a generic Republican beating President Obama head-to-head. Not surprisingly, after painting in pastels in September and caving on increased spending, Republicans have lost that margin and now trail Democrats.

If Republicans paint in bold colors by rejecting tax increases and embracing spending cuts and real reforms, they will not only win the support of conservatives, they will also win those disaffected independents who are tired of the Obama economy.

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