Big spenders on retreat in Washington

Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Last week, House Republicans passed the largest reduction in federal spending in our nation’s history. The Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution approved by Congress reduces spending by nearly $40 billion. Importantly, it funds our troops at home and abroad, and it keeps the U.S. government open through the remainder of the year. Approved by a wide margin, the bill’s passage marks the opening shot in the larger battle to cut borrowing and spending in Washington.

In truth, many of us wish that the cuts went even deeper. Although Republicans represent a majority in the House, we remain a minority in Washington. House Republicans cannot impose our will on Senate Democrats, who represent the biggest barrier between the American people and a government of less spending and less debt. So long as Democrats run the Senate, we will have to fight for every dollar of spending cuts.

Even so, passage of $40 billion in cuts is good news for taxpayers. That is why the bill was supported by every member of Alabama’s House delegation, more than 70 percent of the House’s fiscally-minded freshmen class, and nearly three-fourths of all Tea Party-endorsed House members.

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One issue about the bill deserves clarification.

Some have expressed concerns over news reports that suggest the Continuing Resolution may cut only $350 million, not $38 billion. I, too, was startled when these articles surfaced last week. One Associated Press report stated that, [A] “Congressional Budget Office estimate shows that the spending bill due for a House vote today would cut just $352 million from the deficit through Sept. 30.”

To better understand the situation before I voted, I took part in a briefing with a former director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and I spoke at length with our own Senator Jeff Sessions, now the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. After learning more about the intricacies of government accounting, I came away confident that the legislation will cut spending by nearly $40 billion.

The difference between “budget authority” and “budget outlays” caused confusion.

To understand the difference, consider this: Suppose each Monday a father gives his son a week’s allowance of $25. The son plans to spend a little of the money each day over the course of the week.

In this example, the $25 represents “budget authority,” while the various amounts used each day in the future represents “budget outlays.” If you cut the budget authority, as House Republicans did in the Continuing Resolution, the dad saves money — regardless of when the son would have used it. Once the budget authority is cut, the son does not have any allowance to spend at all.

Recognizing this, the conservative “Weekly Standard” declared the blowup over the relatively small $350 million FY2011 budget outlay — which is equivalent to what the son might have spent immediately — as “much ado about little.”

At the end of the day, House members were presented with a clear choice: vote “yes” to cut $40 billion in spending or “no” to keep the status quo. I voted to cut the spending.

Since January, Republicans have been cleaning up last year’s mess left by Democrats who failed to approve any of the required FY2011 appropriations bills. In some ways, the cuts included in the Continuing Resolution are a bonus: we never expected to have the opportunity to reach back into last year’s spending to block spending. But the complexities of this process demonstrate how difficult it is to cut spending in Washington, and how important it is that we start talking in terms of trillions — not billions — in cuts.

Once on the offensive, House Republicans passed our 2012 budget, a historic proposal to cut $6.2 trillion in government spending over the next decade. This transformational plan also calls for lower taxes and much-needed repairs to ensure that Medicare is available for future generations of Americans.

Passing the 2012 budget represents a monumental shift in the debate over the size and power of government. The principles behind it — less borrowing, lower taxes, less spending — are driving the debate in Washington. We have much work to do, but the tide has shifted. The big spenders are on the retreat.

The first piece of legislation I offered as your Representative was a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Under H.Con.Res.36, Planned Parenthood would be defunded in the Continuing Resolution. A fundamental provision struck in the bicameral agreement on the Continuing Resolution was that both chambers agreed to an up or down vote to defund Planned Parenthood.

While this legislation successfully passed the House, those in the Senate failed to pass it out of their chamber.

A large part of my role as your representative is to meet with scores of individuals and groups in Alabama that are working to improve our local communities and making the state of Alabama a better place to live, work, and raise a family. While working in Washington, D.C., I recently met with members of the Alabama Optometric Association. I also recently talked with students from Goshen public school on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during their trip to Washington, D.C.

Thanks to Alabama Fire Chiefs and Firefighters for speaking with me during their visit to Capitol Hill.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., represents the Second Congressional District, which includes Pike County.