A Breach of Trust

John Boehner

But now a coalition of extreme conservatives in the House wants to break the budget agreement and cut spending below the agreed level, and the House Budget Committee seems willing to go along.

Reneging on the agreement would not only endanger vital programs like Head Start, but it would erase the thin residue of trust left in Congress. It would clearly demonstrate that the current House cannot be trusted to live up to its own pledges.

When Republicans created the debt-ceiling crisis in August, their principal goal was to cut spending, and they got their wish. By threatening a government default, they forced an agreement, negotiated by Speaker John Boehner, that cut $2.3 trillion from the budget over a decade without a dime of new taxes. That includes more than $800 billion cut from nondefense discretionary spending, in vital areas like education, housing assistance, transportation, public health and veterans benefits.

For fiscal year 2013, the agreement set a discretionary spending level of $1.047 trillion. Though far too low, that level at least let appropriators in both the House and Senate know how much they had to spend, and House Republicans crowed about it at the time. “The Budget Control Act represents a victory for those committed to controlling government spending and growing our economy,” said Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. Now members of the Republican Study Committee, the most right-wing members of the House, want to bring the 2013 level down to $931 billion, an unimaginable 11 percent cut in a single year. House officials say Mr. Ryan’s committee is unlikely to cut that much but could bring 2013 spending down to $1.028 trillion.

That $19 billion cut, on top of the ones already agreed to, could have terrible consequences. Assuming it was applied evenly to all nondefense programs, it would mean that 50,000 children would lose access to Head Start; 20,000 families would lose child-care slots; and 10,500 teachers and their aides would lose their jobs.

With the Senate sticking to the agreed-upon spending limit, a lower House number could lead to a clash between the chambers that raises the prospect of another government shutdown. Democrats say they are furious that the agreement could be undercut. “If House Republicans walk away from the agreement their own speaker made less than a year ago, then they will show that a deal with them isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on,” said Senator Patty Murray, who led the Democrats on the budget “supercommittee” last year. If Mr. Boehner is to retain any credibility as a leader of the House and a responsible lawmaker, he needs to extinguish this rebellion and make it clear that a deal is a deal.

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