WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday agreed to deepen proposed federal spending cuts, resolving a split within their ranks but putting them even more at odds with the White House and Democratic-led Senate.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said he would aim to cut nearly $58 billion from current spending levels, one day after warning fellow Republicans that cuts to that level could force airport closures, layoffs at the FBI and other harsh disruptions.
The new target represents a victory for lawmakers aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement who have pushed to nearly double the cuts initially proposed by Rogers and other senior Republicans.
“I have instructed my committee to include these deeper cuts, and we are continuing to work to complete this critical legislation,” Rogers said in a statement.
The package of deeper proposed spending cuts is unlikely to become law, as President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats are certain to oppose it.
But it would meet a Republican campaign promise to trim $100 billion from the budget that Obama proposed last year, which never became law. That would equal the $58 billion cut from current spending.
Rogers’ committee had nearly completed a less-dramatic plan that would immediately impose spending cuts averaging 15 percent on a wide range of domestic programs, from scientific research to law enforcement. Some 60 programs, including Obama’s high-speed rail effort, would be eliminated entirely.
But some conservatives said it did not go far enough, imperiling its chance of winning passage in the House at a time when Republican leaders have failed to round up votes for other measures that had been expected to pass easily.
Cuts of that depth could scare off many Republicans in the Senate who would have supported the earlier package. That would weaken Republicans’ bargaining position when the two chambers try to iron out their differences on funding levels.
Congress must agree on a spending plan to avoid a government shutdown when current funding runs out on March 4.
Senate Democrats are likely to propose extending current funding levels at least on a temporary basis, an aide said.
With Tea Party conservatives in no mood to compromise, a shutdown is likely at some point, one budget expert said.
“Republicans have to shut down the government once just to prove to the Tea Party that they’re willing to do it,” said Stan Collender, a former congressional budget staffer now with Qorvis Communications. “Compromise has been redefined to be a four-letter word in Washington.”
Obama and many Democratic lawmakers have acknowledged the need for some cuts to trim a budget deficit that is projected to hit a record $1.5 trillion this fiscal year.
But they have warned that the sharp, immediate cuts envisioned by House Republicans could lead to tens of thousands of job losses at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 9 percent.
“We’re not going to take a meat axe to this, we’re going to do some serious fine-tuning with a scalpel,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on a conference call.
The domestic spending programs targeted by Republicans account for roughly 12 percent of the $3.7 trillion U.S. budget. Entitlement programs that make up more than half of the budget, such as pensions and healthcare for the elderly, would be spared.
Reporting by Andy Sullivan; editing by Will Dunham