The phone rang just now at home, where I was (and am) writing this week's editorial on Libya. The voice at the other end said, "Bill, this is John Boehner." We've been so swamped with automated fund-raising calls recently that I started to hang up—but fortunately I realized that automated callers don't usually greet me by name. I gathered myself just in time to respond, "Hi, John," and the speaker gave me (and I'm sure many others on his call list) a brief update on GOP budget strategy. It sounds tough-minded and sensible.
The current continuing resolution (CR) funding government expires on March 4th. So the House will pass, early next week, an additional two-week continuing resolution (CR) with $4 billion in spending cuts. That would reduce spending at the same rate per week as the seven month CR the House passed before recess.
But the short-term CR doesn't pro-rate all the spending cuts in the seven-month version. It picks out cuts that the Obama administration has endorsed, as well as earmarks, and terminates them all at once to get to the $4 billion. So it's going to be a little hard for Democrats and the administration to say these cuts are crazy. (They can say these programs should be terminated only on October 1 rather than right away—but that's not exactly a killer argument.)
Once the House passes this short-term CR near the beginning of next week, House Republicans will be able to say they've passed a seven-month CR, and a two-week CR, either of which would keep government open. The pressure should be on Senate Democrats and the administration to accept the short-term CR or come up with a reasonable alternative to avert a government shutdown. Even liberal media are going to have a hard time blaming Republicans if Senate Democrats and/or the Obama administration drop the ball.
The most likely outcome? The president will sign a short-term CR with some (perhaps all) of the $4 billion in spending cuts. We'll hear the usual deprecations of this as a drop in the bucket, etc.—and of course the big fights will lie ahead, as Boehner acknowledged in our phone chat.
But the bottom line is this: Within two months of taking office, the new GOP House will have begun to change the trajectory on domestic discretionary spending for the first time in fifteen years. Not a bad start.