The incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives has laid out a series of changes it would like to make to the House rules, including replacing the current “pay-go” rules — which require all spending increases to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases — with a rule called “cut-go,” which requires that new spending programs — but not new tax cuts — be offset with spending cuts. The GOP has also proposed a new rule requiring that each piece of new legislation include a statement justifying the legislation’s constitutionality.
That’s not all, however. As National Journal reported today, “a little-noticed detail in the new rules proposed by House GOP leaders would greatly increase the power of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee.” Indeed, under the proposed rules, if the House and Senate do not agree on a budget resolution (a distinct possibility with a divided Congress), Ryan will be able to unilaterally set spending levels that are binding on the House, and any attempt to lessen the impact of these cuts can be ruled out of order.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities called the proposed change “stunning and unprecedented“:
This rule change has immediate, far-reaching implications. It means that by voting to adopt the proposed new rules on January 5, a vote on which party discipline will be strictly enforced, the House could effectively be adopting a budget resolution and limits for appropriations bills that it has never even seen, much less debated and had an opportunity to amend. (There is no requirement for Representative Ryan to make his proposed spending and revenue limits available to Members or the public before the vote on the new rules.)…Once Rep. Ryan places in the Congressional Record discretionary funding limits set at the  level, they will become binding on the House, and any attempt to provide funding levels that allow for less severe cuts will be out of order.
Ryan, of course, has gained notoriety for his radical “Roadmap for America’s Future,” which purports to balance the budget by essentially privatizing both Social Security and Medicare, while the House GOP’s much-ballyhooed “Pledge to America” includes a promise to reduce non-defense discretionary spending to the 2008 level. If adopted, an across-the-board cut to 2008 levels would entail severe reductions in important and popular programs like Pell Grants and federal highway funding.
The proposed change also seems to fly in the face of the GOP’s promise to end backroom deals and increase transparency, as with one vote, the GOP House may yoke itself to a budget that has never been made public.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.