House Republicans will not seek to shut down the government if Democrats don’t agree to cut spending when funding expires at the end of March, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet The Press. At the same time, Ryan predicted that the sequester’s across-the-board spending cuts to domestic programs and defense are unlikely to be avoided.
Ryan, the House Budget chairman, signaled that even though Republicans will push hard for spending cuts, they are “more than happy” to continue spending at levels written into law if the alternative is a government shutdown.
“We’re not interested in shutting the government down,” Ryan said.
There are two looming budget deadlines. The sequester — part of the August 2011 debt limit deal that tried to force the parties to reduce the deficit — kicks in March 1. The continuing resolution on the budget, which keeps the government funded, expires on March 27.
“I think the sequester’s going to happen, because that $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, we can’t lose those spending cuts,” Ryan said.
As for the expiration of the continuing budget resolution, some congressional Republicans have threatened to shut down the government by not approving a new one. But Ryan said that is not the course to take:
We are more than happy to keep spending at those levels going on into the future while we debate how to balance the budget. How to grow the economy. How to create economic opportunity. That’s the kind of debate the country deserves.
The budget chair said Republicans have no interest in raising revenues, either via higher tax rates or reforming deductions and loopholes, insisting that spending is the problem.
The remarks by Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, represents a concession of sorts on how hard to push for the GOP’s ideological priorities. His comments suggest that the House GOP will not threaten to withhold government funding as leverage to force Democrats to accede to lower spending. The strategic shift will disappoint conservatives who view runaway spending as an existential threat to the country and are hungry for a government shutdown standoff to make their point.
Still, crisis looms. The spending cuts under the sequester are draconian and indiscriminate and are expected to have serious impacts on the ability of the government to provide a wide range of public services and essential functions.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.