WASHINGTON — Republicans have already violated some of the vows they made in taking stewardship of the House.
Their pledge to cut $100 billion from the budget in one year won't be kept.
The first spending cut measure to come to the floor – imposing a 5 percent spending cut on lawmakers' budgets for office expenses and staff salaries – is hardly in keeping with the promise to return spending back to pre-Obama levels. Such costs have risen by 14 percent since that time.
And for a coming vote seeking to repeal the health care overhaul, the first major initiative of the new Congress, lawmakers won't be allowed to propose changes to the legislation despite Republican promises to end such heavy-handed tactics from the days of Democratic control.
Is business as usual really back so fast? That's not clear one day after Democrat Nancy Pelosi yielded the gavel to the new Republican House leader, John Boehner. The GOP came to power in the House with an agenda that, if carried through, would in fact change how the government spends, taxes and does its legislative business.
But those with long memories may have the feeling they've seen this movie before.
After the GOP won control of Congress in the 1994 elections, the House churned out a series of votes aimed at fulfilling promises made in the party's "Contract With America." Most hit a dead end in the Senate. The GOP's new governing document, "A Pledge to America," covers many of the same themes and faces many of the same problems.
The effort to repeal the health care law, for one, is expected to pass in the House and fail in the Senate, going nowhere.
A look at some of the Republican promises in the campaign that delivered them control of the House, and their prospects now:
CUT SPENDING: "We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone," the GOP pledge stated.
It turns out $100 billion is way out of reach.
By the time the current stopgap spending bill expires March 4, five months of the budget year – which began Oct. 1 – will have passed. Republicans acknowledge it's unrealistic to force even deeper cuts for the rest of the budget year to make up for money that's already been spent at the current, higher levels.
What is more, Republicans juiced up the $100 billion promise in the first place by using as their starting point President Barack Obama's $1.128 trillion budget request, a theoretical figure that was never approved by Congress.
Republicans are bristling at accusations that they're backtracking from the $100 billion promise even as they concede they can't pull it off. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Republicans will set spending limits "for the remainder" of the budget year at levels in effect before the 2009 stimulus.
CUTTING CONGRESS' SPENDING: Thursday's vote to curb spending for office expenses for House leaders, rank and file lawmakers and committees would save about $35 million by cutting their budgets by 5 percent. But the amount of money provided, for example, for expenses for rank and file office expenses has gone up by 14 percent since 2008.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday's cut "is just the first installment," and that further cuts are possible when Republicans wrap up the 2011 budget process in coming months. He noted that the Pledge to America doesn't commit Congress to cutting its budget to 2008 levels; rather it promises to cut domestic accounts, taken as a whole, back to those levels.
The budgets of House leadership offices have gone up by 8 percent since 2008. The House Appropriations Committee's budget has gone up by 5 percent since 2008 but new Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., orchestrated a 9 percent cut.
REFORM CONGRESS: "We will let any lawmaker – Democrat or Republican – offer amendments to reduce spending," the pledge said. "House Democrats have relied heavily on what are known as `martial law' procedures during the current Congress, particularly provisions that allow them to bring any bill to the floor with little or no notice and deny Republican members of Congress or even factions of their own party their right to debate and offer amendments or substitutes for consideration or vote."
Despite the promise of more open debate and the opportunity to offer floor amendments, GOP leaders will bring legislation to repeal Obama's signature health care overhaul bill to the floor next week and deny Democrats any chance to try to preserve popular provisions.
Republicans say that repealing the health care measure is a core campaign promise that deserves an up or down vote.
But it denies minority Democrats the chance to force individual votes on certain provisions of the new law, such as the ban on insurance company discrimination against people with pre-existing illness or the measure allowing children to stay on their parents' health plan until they turn 26.
Blocking votes on such popular provisions would protect newly elected Republicans, especially in swing districts, from politically difficult decisions. It also would guarantee a united GOP front against the bill.
Democrats also say that repealing the health care law would add to the deficit, contrary to the GOP's promise to curb runaway deficits. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's most recent estimate says that the Democratic health measure would reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the coming decade, savings that would disappear if the law is repealed. Republicans counter that that figure is unrealistic.
Thursday's vote to cut lawmakers' budgets was also brought to the floor under a procedure that blocked conservatives from offering deeper cuts.