Ryan Plans To Use Unprecendented New Budget Power To Propose Cutting Popular, Important Programs

As various parties pointed out last week, the new House rules proposed by the incoming Republican majority would endow House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) with what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities characterized as “stunning and unprecedented” new powers to set federal spending limits that are binding on the House. As David Dayen explained, the rule change is “really a way for a budget resolution to pass without anyone having to take a vote on it,” and then House appropriators will be bound by whatever spending level Ryan thinks is appropriate.

It seemed likely that Ryan’s first step would be to embrace the spending limit set out in the House GOP’s “Pledge to America,” which calls for immediately reducing non-defense discretionary spending to the 2008 level. In a statement, Ryan has now confirmed his plan is exactly that:

When we get those projections, as outlined in the House Republicans’ Pledge to America, I plan to file a discretionary spending limit that would take non-security spending back to its pre-bailout, pre-stimulus spending levels. Other Federal spending and revenue levels will be established as outlined in the Congressional Budget Office’s forthcoming baseline, with the adjustments provided in the Rules package to prevent taxes from rising and to make possible a repeal of the costly health care overhaul.

The second half of Ryan’s pronouncement is a sneaky way of saying that the new rules exempt repeal of the Affordable Care Act from the budget restraints, since repealing the Affordable Care Act will actually increase the deficit.

As I’ve explained quite a few times, a literal reduction in all programs to the 2008 level is going to take a huge chunk out of vital and popular programs and agencies like Pell Grants, federal highway funding, the National Park Service, federal education funding, cancer research, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the FBI. And every exemption that the GOP offers means that a larger chunk must be taken out of everything else to get total spending to the arbitrary 2008 level.

Of course, no matter what cockamamie scheme the House GOP adopts to empower Ryan as budget overlord, the Senate can’t be bound by House rules. Thus, anything that the House passes will still be subject to negotiations with the Senate. But still, the new rules would leave the House Budget process in the hands of a lawmaker whose ideal budget privatizes Social Security and Medicare, and reduces taxes on the richest 10 percent of households while raising them for the other 90 percent.