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Republicans' Radical Plans for Budget Could Threaten the Economic Security of Millions

Newly emboldened Republicans plan to use arcane House procedural rules for a scorched-earth assault against government spending.

Through new budget rules that are expected to pass on a party-line vote in the House this week, and an upcoming battle over raising the government's “debt ceiling,” the new Republican leadership is preparing to codify a discredited far-right economic agenda into law, forcing deep cuts to public spending at precisely the moment when the economy needs that spending to build momentum.

If the GOP wins the very public fights to come over the next year, it'll deliver a grievous dose of anti-stimulus to our painfully ailing economy. What's more, after a campaign season of fear-mongering about the federal government's budget picture and shrill calls for greater transparency in Congress, if they have their way, the Tea Party Republicans in the House will institute rules that would allow them to run up massive piles of new debt, with at best limited public debate. 

It'll be up to us to make sure President Obama and Senate Dems don't cave before the onslaught to come.

Ryan's Rule

At the beginning of each new session of Congress, the majority party sets procedural rules that guide how legislation is to be crafted. Buried in the House's arcane rules is a measure that the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)  calls, “a stunning and unprecedented provision” that would give the Chair of the House Budget Committee – widely expected to be Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's top economic ideologue – previously unheard of power to dictate the terms of the House budgeting process.

The rule stems from the Dems' failure to pass a budget resolution in last year's lame duck session of Congress. Absent that resolution the rule empowers Ryan to publish spending and revenue limits that would “be considered as the completion of congressional action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2011.” In other words, whatever Ryan cooks up, will have the same effect as a resolution passed by the entire House of Representatives .

CBPP notes the 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.)

This would, among other things, facilitate the implementation of incoming Speaker John Boehner's radical proposal to cut non-security discretionary funding for fiscal year 2011 by $101 billion (or 21.7 percent) below the level appropriated for 2010, as adjusted for inflation without any consideration or vote on that proposal.

Ryan is a dedicated Ayn Rand fan and draws inspiration for his policy prescriptions from the Right's favorite fiction writer. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he said at a D.C. event honoring the author. On another occasion, he proclaimed, “Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.”

Boehner's proposal to cut discretionary spending by $100 billion – more than a fifth -- to 2008 levels, fits into that "philosophical framework." As Bloomberg reported, such deep cuts would “lead to dramatic reductions in social services across the board” and require “slash[ing] spending for education, cancer research and aid to local police and firefighters.” It truly is radical at a time when the government is still acting as a “buyer of the last resort,” and propping up state and local budgets devastated by the recession.

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