Boehner: I'm standing by the $38 billion number

If anyone doubted John Boehner’s tenacity, his appearance on Laura Ingraham’s show today shows that he’s not afraid to defend himself. A clearly skeptical Ingraham walked Boehner through the objections raised on the Right over the AP’s report on CBO scoring, and Boehner doesn’t give an inch.  Ingraham’s staff highlighted the key passages, but the entire nine-minute interview is worth the time:

@0:10 – Boehner: We have $315 billion in spending that we’re going to cut over the next 10 years. And let’s not forget where we started this year. The president said no cuts from the current spending line. None! And the fact is we’re going to spend $78.5 billion less this year than what the president wanted to spend. And if Republicans had not won the majority in the House last year, I guarantee you we’d be spending $78.5 billion dollars more this year than we spent last.

On the CBO report saying only $353 million will be cut from the deficit this year:

@1:03 – Boehner: That is not an accurate figure because when you cut the spending some of it is going to occur this year and some of it is going to roll into next year.

@1:39 – Boehner: I fought for every dime of spending cuts I could get out of Harry Reid and President Obama.

@1:52 – Laura: The Wall Street Journal is calling it ‘Spending Cut Hokum;’ National Review says it no longer supports the deal.
Boehner: And the Weekly Standard says that these are real cuts, this is a deal worth taking and we ought to proceed. And this is the first step. There are going to be lots of fights over the next 18 months in terms of cutting spending and we need to get this one out of the way today and tomorrow is the next step.

@4:46 – Laura: You’re still standing by the $38 billion?
Boehner: Absolutely. I’ve got the numbers, and the $78.5 billion less than what the president wanted to spend.

Boehner also said he was “very disappointed” in Obama’s speech yesterday, and warned that on the debt-ceiling debate and spending cuts, “If the president won’t lead — we will.”

Boehner also got a boost from an unexpected corner today.  As Republicans on Capitol Hill try to push back against the AP report on the savings in the current budget deal, one ally in particular has ridden to their rescue.  Americans for Tax Reform usually represents the hard-line, no-taxes front of fiscal conservatism and would normally be more inclined to hammer the GOP for weakness on policy than defend them.  On this point, though, ATR says that the eruption of outrage over outlays is both misplaced and unfair:

First, the nit-picking on numbers is a result of conflation between how the government budgets and how it spends money.  The entire FY 2011 budget discussion has revolved around the government’s Budget Authority (BA), the permission given to government to spend money. Thus, the House-passed H.R.1 cut $61 billion in BA for the fiscal year, while H.R. 1473 cuts almost $40 billion.

Some are arguing now that because these cuts are not reflected in outlays, or the money that actually goes out the door, they are not “real.” This is not only disingenuous, it is totally ignorant of the way the federal government budgets.

What’s more, it is an entirely nonsensical conservative position to argue that rescinding permission to spend money does not equate to spending cuts. To reform the federal budget process, small government advocates need to address the way government spends money – as the process is driven by BA, and not outlays, it is unhelpful to discuss budget-cutting in terms of outlays. It is especially malevolent to do so now in the eleventh hour of the budget fight that has revolved entirely around a discussion of BA for FY 2011.

In part, this was caused by ambiguous goal setting by the GOP, but even that has its own context.  It’s true that the debate is, as always, on authorizations; it’s up to the agencies to determine when, how, and if all of the money authorized gets spent.  The GOP didn’t do a terribly good job of explaining the difference during the last few months, though the difference only matters because of the failure of the Democrats to pass an FY2011 budget in the first place.  The budget cutting that Republicans promised was supposed to apply to the FY2012 budget, which will be a lot easier to address before the fiscal year is already half-over, as FY2011 already is.

Some are also complaining that spending actually increases as a result of the budget deal, which ATR calls “utterly disingenuous”:

More reports argue that the current CR will actually increase spending above last year’s levels. This is also untrue, and an entirely disingenuous argument to make – it relies on this chart, released from CBO, which scores the outlay levels in H.R. 1473 as a $3 billion increase over the current CR’s outlays. Looking back at the outlay scores provided for the previous continuing resolutions passed this year, it is immediately obvious that the outlays are an inconsistent and inappropriate metric – indeed, the CR currently funding government constitutes a $8 billion increase over the previous CR when only outlays are considered.

Meanwhile, the Hill reports that the deal appears to have enough votes at the moment to pass in both chambers, although the Senate looks close:

While there will be defections on the right and left, Capitol Hill sources believe the funding bill for the remainder of fiscal 2011 will clear both chambers. The Senate vote, however, is expected to be more of a cliffhanger than the House vote. Sixty votes are required in the Senate as opposed to a simple majority in the House.

The last-minute pushback against the reporting on the CBO scoring may help provide enough of a margin for Boehner to deliver, but it will be nail-biting time for the Speaker this afternoon.