Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pre-empted President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday by dismissing what is expected to be one of the key pillars of that speech: a call for a five-year non-defense discretionary spending freeze. Instead, McConnell endorsed House Republicans’ plan to reduce that spending to 2008-levels — significantly below what he’d agreed to support in 2010.
“It strikes most of us that the effort by the House of Representatives to get us back to 2008 spending levels would be the direction to go if we really wanted to have an impact on our annual deficit problems,” McConnell told reporters at his weekly press conference.
In 2010, at the outset of a failed appropriations process, Senate Democrats allowed McConnell to set the overall spending limit, understanding that Republicans would block spending legislation that exceeded his wishes. He picked a cap below what President Obama had requested, but higher than 2008 levels. In the wake of the November midterms, he wants that number to drop.
“We think there need to be dramatic reductions in our annual spending, beginning with the current fiscal year which we are in now,” he said.
President Obama is expected to call for a five year freeze in discretionary spending as a gesture to the GOP. But they long ago rejected anything in the ballpark of his most recent budget.
“The problem with that is it freezes in place an extraordinary increase in spending that’s occurred over the last two years,” McConnell said.
House Republicans today announced that they’ll introduce new spending legislation in mid February — about three weeks before current spending authority expires. But it’s no secret where they’re headed. They voted today on a symbolic measure to cut that spending to 2008 levels or less this year.
If Senate Republicans hold the line, under the threat of a government shutdown they’ll have tremendous leverage to force spending levels down significantly. But the real wrangling over this stuff will begin in about two weeks.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.