At 4:40 a.m. on Saturday morning the House, by a vote of 235-189, passed a bill to cut $61.5 billion from this year’s budget. This level of cuts, which would be significantly higher if annualized, constitutes the largest reduction in non-security discretionary spending in history (the cuts are compressed into seven months rather than 12 because the fiscal year starts in October). It fulfills the pledge by House Republicans to cut domestic discretionary spending levels to 2008 levels (pre-stimulus and pre-bailouts). The GOP plan eliminates dozens of programs, cuts some agency budgets by as much as 40 percent, would end funding for AmeriCorps and PBS, and would strip funding for Planned Parenthood for the remainder of the year. It also blocks money for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – aka ObamaCare.
To put things within a proper context, the level of cuts we’re talking about are beyond anything Newt Gingrich or even Ronald Reagan seriously contemplated (Reagan made a serious run at budget cuts in 1981 but eventually backed away from them, in part because he had so little support from Congressional Republicans).
Still, domestic discretionary spending is to entitlements what a pellet gun is to a cannon – and last week Republicans committed to entitlement reform. This level of commitment is unprecedented for any Congress and matched by only one president, George W. Bush, who in 2005 spent considerable political capital on reforming Social Security, only to lose (Congressional Republicans never even voted on a reform plan).
I realize that significantly cutting or eliminating funding for programs like PBS, Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Legal Services Corporation light up conservative regions of the brain that entitlement programs simply do not. There is a cultural component to those programs that are missing from entitlement programs. But in the larger scheme of things, cutting entitlements matters a whole lot more. And what happened this weekend constitutes just a warm up act to what Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will present this spring.
The level of cuts the GOP is advocating, of course, won’t become law. But the House can only control what the House can control. And in less than a week it has shown a level of fiscal seriousness and fidelity to limited government that is unmatched in our time. In the process it has shamed the president and his party, whose level of fiscal irresponsibility is also unmatched in our time.