Did Boehner Get Rolled on the CR Deal? UPDATE - Deal Collapsing?

Posted: Apr 12, 2011 2:53 PM
National Review editor Rich Lowry is beginning to wonder if Republicans got "punked" during last week's CR negotiations.  He says the vaunted 2011 budget deal is looking "worse and worse" by the minute.  A look at the evidence feeding Rich's suspicions:

But some of the worst-sounding trims are not quite what they seem, and officials said they would not necessarily result in lost jobs or service cutbacks. In several cases, what look like large reductions are actually accounting gimmicks.

The legislation includes $4.9 billion from the Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund, for instance, but that money is in a reserve fund that wasn’t going to be spent this year. Crime victims would receive no less money than they did before the deal.

The bill includes savings of nearly $500 million on the federal Pell grant program, which aids low-income college students. But those savings are reflected in an administration plan already underway to limit grants to the academic year to preserve the maximum grant amount of $5,550.

Another cut, $3.5 billion for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, would affect only rewards for states that make an extra effort to enroll children. But officials with knowledge of the budget deal said that most states were unlikely to qualify for the bonuses and that sufficient money would be available for those that did.


Instead, the cuts that actually will make it into law are far tamer, including cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.

About $10 billion of the cuts already have been enacted as the price for keeping the government open as negotiations progressed; lawmakers tipped their hand regarding another $10 billion or so when the House passed a spending bill last week that ran aground in the Senate.

For instance, the spending measure reaps $350 million by cutting a one-year program enacted in 2009 for dairy farmers then suffering from low milk prices. Another $650 million comes by not repeating a one-time infusion into highway programs passed that same year. And just last Friday, Congress approved Obama’s $1 billion request for high-speed rail grants — crediting themselves with $1.5 billion in savings relative to last year.

Unlike the smoke-and-mirrors faux cuts mentioned above, the deal does include at least one administration-suggested slice:

The Homeland Security Department sees significant cuts as well: $226 million is cut from the southern border fence at the suggestion of the Obama administration...

Rich's NR colleague, Ramesh Ponnuru poses the question of the day:

So What's Left? ...The budget deal is supposed to deliver $38 billion in spending cuts, including $20 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary spending. (House Republicans originally passed $61 billion of cuts in that category of spending.) Based on news accounts, quite a lot of that $20 billion could be phony: $6.2 billion in unspent money for the Census; $2.5 billion of highway funds that couldn’t be spent; $3.5 billion of unused spending authority in a children’s health-care program. Is it possible that Republicans have gone from $61 billion in domestic discretionary savings all the way down to $8 billion?

Needless to say, I'm all in favor of slashing redundant spending and using unspent dollars (in some cases, dollars that are actually prohibited from being spent for their original appropriated purpose) to pay down the deficit.  But shouldn't we be be making those sort of common-sense adjustments already?  Ramesh's apparent exasperation seems warranted here.  The scope of the deal's spending cuts is being sold as "historic."  Setting aside the fact that what's truly historic is the deficit the deal leaves overwhelmingly intact, these gimmicks make the bipartisan agreement seem even less serious than originally thought.  

Speaker Boehner's staff is doing its best to highlight the deal's more attractive elements, but many rank-and-file conservatives aren't persuaded.  Significant elements of the Left are hopping mad over the deal, too -- hell, some elected Democrats are even getting arrested over it.  Could the pro-deal coalition be cracking?  Or is the public already convinced of the deal's rectitude, which would make scuttling it politically untenable?

Even if the grand compromise is essentially a woefully insufficient fig leaf, should Republicans kill it?  It does cut billions spending, it does prohibit tax dollars from funding abortions in DC, it does de-fund a number of President Obama's czars, and it does restore funding to the DC scholarship program.  Also, as I've argued all along, this skirmish is a mere amuse bouche compared to the filling main courses that will be served up very soon.  Would it be wiser for the GOP to claim victory and move on to the big stuff, or is this stinker worth blocking, on principle?

UPDATE:  John Podhoretz thinks the deal may be collapsing, and if it does, the GOP will be blamed.

UPDATE II: Surprise!  Once the tricks are stripped away, the deal only includes $14.7 Billion in "real cuts."

The final cuts in the deal are advertised as $38.5 billion less than was appropriated in 2010, but after removing rescissions, cuts to reserve funds, and reductions in mandatory spending programs, discretionary spending will be reduced only by $14.7 billion.

White House officials said throughout the process that the composition of the cuts was more important than the top-line number, and that including mandatory cuts allowed that top line to grow while limiting the immediate impact of the cuts.

The move also keeps the 2011 discretionary baseline slightly higher, a terrain advantage for the Democrats heading into the 2012 spending process.

UPDATE III: More disheartening perspective from Terry Jeffrey:

Boehner-Obama Deal Leaves FY11 Spending $773B Above FY08 Level—About as Big an Increase as Obama’s Stimulus

Meanwhile, Majority Leader Eric Cantor predicts the deal will pass with "strong Republican support."

UPDATE IV: Sen. Rand Paul is contemplating 'filibustering' the deal, if it reaches the Senate.