government

New House leaders require program cuts to pay for additional spending

The GOP-written rules would not count tax cuts or repeal of the health system reform law as increasing the federal deficit.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Jan. 19, 2011

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The new Republican-controlled House on Jan. 5 adopted a package of rules for the legislative chamber that requires additional spending to be paid for with program cuts, but it carves out some major exceptions for GOP priorities.

The rules allow the House Budget Committee chair -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R, Wis.) -- to set annual spending limits for appropriations legislation without a vote of the full House, which was required in previous House sessions. Some Democrats said this new consolidation of power flies in the face of Republican promises of more transparency.

The new rules will require House committees to post the text of bills online at least 24 hours before committee markups. The committees also must provide three days' notice for meetings and seven days for hearings.

The new rules have fed into an argument between House Republicans and Democrats over the cost of the health system reform law. The rules require additional federal spending to be offset by program cuts, not additional taxes. But those restrictions do not consider a $700 billion package of tax cuts enacted in December 2010 or a repeal of the health reform law introduced on Jan. 5 as raising federal deficits. It also exempts future tax cuts.

Democrats point to Congressional Budget Office estimates concluding that the health reform law will shrink the federal debt by $145 billion between 2012 and 2019. Therefore, the repeal bill introduced by Republicans would increase the debt by about $145 billion during the same period, according to a preliminary analysis by the Congressional Budget Office released Jan. 6. That cost would increase to $230 billion over a full 10 years, said CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf.

"Within a week of taking control of the House, Republicans want to add $230 billion to the deficit over the next decade ... a move that flies in the face of their pledge to reduce the deficit," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D, Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

However, Republicans claim that the CBO estimate is not accurate because it omits hundreds of billions in costs associated with implementing the health reform law. Democrats also have claimed that $398 billion in future Medicare cuts will pay for coverage subsidies in the law and extend Medicare's solvency, when only one of the two is possible, Republicans noted.

"Hiding spending does not reduce spending," Ryan said. "The Democrats loaded the overhaul with gimmicks and double-counting -- and the CBO must score what is put in front of it."

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