More Austerity: But More Money For Memes

The House-drafted continuing resolution that would avoid a government shutdown and fund discretionary programs until the end of the fiscal year is most notable for its ratification of post-sequester appropriations levels. That means, as Ezra Klein notes this morning:

The House GOP’s plan to fund the government cuts appropriation levels this year by $55 billion — which would mean the government gets $33 billion less than in the most recent Republican budget.

And the rightward trajectory of GOP fiscal policy, along with the ratcheting down of projected spending Republicans demand, is about to intensify once Paul Ryan rolls out his latest budget:

Their last budget didn’t balance until almost 2040. But in order to secure conservative votes to delay the debt ceiling for three months, House Speaker John Boehner and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan promised that the next budget would balance within 10 years.

They’re helped in that effort by the “fiscal cliff” deal, which added more than $600 billion in tax revenues to the bottom line. But that’s not nearly enough to get them to balance by 2024. And so they’re going to need to propose much deeper cuts than in their previous budgets. Ryan is reportedly considering breaking the GOP’s promise to keep Medicare unchanged for everyone over age 55.

But it’s not all about austerity. House appropriators are not undertaking some careful reconsideration of priorities to reverse the ham-handed nature of the sequester; nor are they inclined to follow the alleged pre-sequester interest of Senate Republicans in giving the administration flexibility to implement it. They are, however, throwing some serious money at a few rhetorical priorities, as Politico‘s David Rogers explains:

Inside the Pentagon, billions of dollars would be moved to operation and maintenance accounts to relieve some of the crunch facing the four military services. At the State Department, up to $2 billion in new funding — offset by cuts elsewhere — is reallocated for embassy security in the wake of the attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Closer to home, an additional $344 million would become available to help Homeland Security maintain customs and Border Patrol staffing. And the Forest Service and Interior Department are promised an additional $570 million to cope with wildfires this summer.

But a frustrated White House came away empty-handed in its effort to boost Head Start or secure additional funds to help set up the state exchanges important to the president’s health reform initiative.

So: they’ve found billions to maintain their credibility as Pentagon fans, billions more to keep alive the Benghazi! Benghazi! “scandal;” and hundreds of millions more to crack down on the dwindling number of people crossing the southern border, presumably to keep conservatives on board some future immigration deal. But not one cent for health care reform.

None of this may matter if Democrats summarily reject the House bill. But it gives us a pretty good idea of the chum Republicans are throwing into the roiled waters of this particular stage of the fiscal fight.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.