Republicans Would Rather Not Cut the Budget If They Can Avoid It.

Despite what you hear, It's not necessarily true that Republicans want to cut the budget. Or rather, that they want to face the consequences of doing so.

Take the new rule that gives House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan the ability to essentially write a budget resolution himself should the House fail to pass one normally. While many have criticized the plan as a power grab, the move appears to be less about giving Ryan unilateral control and more about finding a way for Republicans to avoid tough votes on the specifics of their austerity vision -- no committee wrangling over the tough choices, just lower preset spending levels from the budget chairman. And the vote to do so happens at the beginning of the year, before any of the debate begins -- it doesn't sound like the new majority is all that interested in getting into the nitty-gritty of shared sacrifice, to borrow President Obama's favorite phrase.

Similarly, House Republicans have suddenly discovered that their promise to cut the non-defense discretionary budget by $100 billion in the first year will only entail cuts in the $50 billion to $60 billion range. While it looks like a flip-flop, Republicans based their campaign promise on the baseline set by the White House's never-enacted fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. Since current spending levels are set to fiscal year 2010, Republicans have to cut less to reach their goal.

Whether intentional or not, it's a clever bit of politicking: By promising to cut a big, round $100 billion chunk from a spending bill that never passed, they attracted the support of Tea Party activists and others worried about the deficit, but they won't have to do the hard work of cutting spending so dramatically.

But it may also be too clever: If rambunctious new members try to hold their leadership to the specific promises of the Pledge to America, internecine squabbles can be expected. It'll be worse when the House Republicans' plan emerges in a Democratic Senate under a Democratic president; whatever their initial offer is will likely be shifted to become more palatable to the other party in power.

-- Tim Fernholz

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