In a move that evokes the grueling partisan battles of last summer as the United States teetered on the brink of default, the White House is warning Republicans of a government shutdown if they reject the debt-reduction deal they made with Democrats.
In a bluntly worded letter to the Republican chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, an Obama administration official warned against seeking additional cuts in discretionary spending on top of those the two parties agreed to last August. The Republican budget proposal authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan would cut spending to a level below what the two parties agreed on, and Democrats have accused Republicans of reneging on their promises.
Unfortunately, the House Budget Resolution for FY 2013 breaks out bipartisan agreement and proposes $28 billion in new cuts in annual non-defense spending - exactly the area where we have already cut the most, Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, wrote in the letter. Until the House of Representatives indicates that it will abide by last summer's agreement, the President will not be able to sign any appropriations bills.
By threatening to reject those appropriations bills, the White House signaled that it would push hard to hold Republicans to the terms of the debt ceiling compromise. Ryan has already sought to avert military cuts triggered by the failure of the debt reduction super committee, a proposal that has attracted substantial Republican support.
President Barack Obama has denounced the Ryan budget as social Darwinism for focusing cuts disproportionately on programs, such as Medicaid, food stamps, and federal education funding, that benefit low-income Americans. He expanded on those critiques in a speech criticizing Republicans for gutting investments he said are needed for the middle class to prosper.
The letter from Zients reiterated Obama's opposition, warning that the Republican proposal offered too little funding.
These funding levels will mean deep and painful cuts in investments that America needs to succeed - in education and training, in research and development, and in clean energy and infrastructure - and will undermine future economic growth and degrade many of the basic government services on which the American people rely, the letter states.
A spokesman for Kentucky Republican congressman Hal Rogers, the committee chairman to whom the letter was addressed, dismissed it as a thinly veiled press release and dared the president to make good on his vow.
When appropriations bills pass both the House and the Senate, the president can choose to sign them, spokeswoman Jennifer Hing told Politico, or else he can choose to shut down the federal government, put our people at risk and imperil our economic recovery.
Polls showed that the budget ceiling standoff deeply damaged public perceptions of Republicans in Congress. The potential shutdown the White House letter cautions against would occur shortly before the 2012 presidential election, and the pressure from the White House suggests that Democrats would likely try to blame Republican intransigence for the debacle.