Grousing about the GOP's timidity in the battle against big government will probably become an ongoing theme over the next few months. Two items don't bode well for fiscal discipline.
First, it appears that Republicans didn't really mean it when they promised to cut $100 billion of so-called discretionary spending as part of their pledge. According to the New York Times,
As they prepare to take power on Wednesday, Republican leaders are scaling back that number by as much as half, aides say, because the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, will be nearly half over before spending cuts could become law.
This is hardly good news, particularly since the discretionary portion of the budget contains entire departments, such as Housing and Urban Development, that should be immediately abolished.
That being said, I don't think this necessarily means the GOP has thrown in the towel. The real key is to reverse the Bush-Obama spending binge and put the government on some sort of diet so that the federal budget grows slower than the private economy. I explain in this video, for instance, that it is simple to balance the budget and maintain tax cuts so long as government spending grows by only 2 percent each year.
It is a good idea to get as much savings as possible for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, to be sure, but the real key is the long-run trajectory of federal spending.
The second item is the GOP's apparent interest in retaining Douglas Elmendorf, the current director of the Congressional Budget Office.
Many of you will remember that the CBO cooked the books last year to help ram through Obamacare. Under Elmendorf's watch, CBO also was a relentless advocate and defender of Obama's failed stimulus. And CBO under Elmendorf published reports saying higher taxes would improve economic performance.
But Elmendorf's statist positions apparently are not a problem for some senior Republicans, as reported by The Hill.
The new House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), gave a very public endorsement of the embattled head of the Congressional Budget Office during his first major speech as committee head Wednesday night. ...“You’re doing a great job at CBO, Doug,” Ryan said after receiving the first annual Fiscy Award for his efforts at tackling the national debt. He added that he looked forward to crunching budget numbers with him in the future.
In the long run, the failure to deal with the problems at CBO (as well as the Joint Committee on Taxation) may cause even more problems than the timidity about cutting $100 billion of waste from the 2011 budget. Given the rules on Capitol Hill, it makes a huge difference whether CBO and JCT are putting out flawed numbers.
I've already written that fixing the mess at CBO and JCT is a critical test of GOP resolve, and I actually thought this would be a relatively easy test for them to pass. It is an ominous sign that Republicans aren't even trying to clean house.