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Politics

House Republicans propose $74 billion in budget cuts

House Republicans on Thursday unveiled $74 billion in cuts to President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget for the remainder of the fiscal year — squaring off with rank-and-file conservatives who insist on $100 billion in reductions promised on the campaign trail, and Senate Democrats who reject such deep hits.

Republicans have said they cannot achieve the greater reduction outlined in their “Pledge to America” last fall because spending has been underway since the fiscal year began in October.

Instead, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, vowed that for the remainder of the fiscal year, his proposal would return domestic outlays to 2008 levels, “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout” — before the federal government took extraordinary steps to shore up the economy during the financial crisis and recession.

“Washington’s spending spree is over,” Ryan said.

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Congress faces a March 4 deadline to approve a fiscal plan, as the temporary one expires. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned that the GOP is “playing with fire” by threatening to shut down the federal government if cuts are not enacted.

Republicans are linking proposed spending reductions to the Obama administration’s request to raise the debt ceiling limit, a vote conservative lawmakers oppose. Defaulting on debt payments would upend the financial markets, experts have said.

“Too many Republicans seem to want to force a government shutdown,” Schumer said.

Republicans have struggled to keep their campaign pledge to cut spending, and Ryan’s proposal exposes a new difficulty.

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The cuts Ryan proposed to defense and non-security discretionary accounts are taken from Obama’s proposed 2011 budget, which was never enacted.

That means the chairman’s proposal would result in a smaller reduction, about $35 billion, from the actual current level of spending in Washington.

Such a reduction is unlikely to appease House conservatives who have promised to uphold the campaign pledge to cut $100 billion for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.

“Many House members want to see at least $100 billion,” said a spokesman for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Democratic leaders dismissed the House Republican proposal as “unworkable” even as senators within their ranks have proposed spending cuts of their own. With nearly two dozen Democratic senators up for reelection in 2012, some are heeding the popular demand to reduce government.

The chief economist at Moodys.com, Mark Zandi, said Thursday that austerity measures are needed but should be put off until 2012, when the jobless rate has improved and the economy is on better footing.

Budget watchdogs say the cuts in discretionary spending are needed to reduce historically high federal deficits, but would do little to address broader budget imbalances.

Most deficit spending comes from federal outlays on entitlement programs — Medicare and Social Security — for which cuts are not proposed.

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lmascaro@tribune.com


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