House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today that his party had agreed to $51.5 billion in spending cuts for the rest of the fiscal year, bringing them "more than halfway" to what Republicans wanted, and bringing them close enough to negotiate seriously.
"We don't want to shut down the government, we're not going to shut down the government, and we've come halfway toward the Republicans' proposals," said Hoyer.
Democrats get to that number, essentially, by conceding defeat so far and asking that the spending fight goes to a truce. They count the $41 billion of cuts to projected FY2011 spending from the December 2010 continuing resolution, the $4 billion cut in the two-week short term CR passed last week, and the $6.5 billion of cuts tentatively agreed to by both the White House and the Democratic Senate. This is not what Republicans talk about when they talk about $100 billion, total, in cuts -- they want to slash whatever they can from the next seven months of spending.
But Hoyer's stance fits within the framework Republicans have built for the spending debate. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, had just criticized the president for not "leading" in the debate, and he's not the only Democratic senator saying this. "I think Sen. Manchin was right in calling for the president to lead," said Hoyer, "but the Republicans in the House also have to lead." The leadership might be coming on the budget. "To their credit, Republicans have said they're going to work with the entitlements as well. If they do, Democrats should be prepared, on our side, to engage them as well."
TPM's Brian Beutler asked Hoyer a good question -- if Democrats are criticizing Republicans because Mark Zandi and Ben Bernanke say budget cuts will hurt jobs and GDP.
"That may happen, frankly," said Hoyer. "Some administrations may cut jobs. The Clinton administration cut jobs. But all are you are distracted as the American people are distracted by items in the budget that aren't significant." Hoyer went on to discuss the size of Afghanistan and Iraq War spending compared to discretionary spending, probably a better way to demonstrate how little power Democrats have taken in this process.