After Venting Over ‘Sneaky’ Doc-Fix Vote, House GOP Coalesces Behind Ryan Budget

Angry conservatives air grievances with Eric Cantor at two tense meetings Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 08: House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) delivers remarks about his support of charter schools and tax-funded voucher programs that help pay for private and parochial schools at the Brookings Institution January 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. 'Right now, school choice is under attack,' Cantor said. He also said that the House Republicans will work to prevent anything that 'could devastate the growth of education opportunity,' including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's pledge to charge rent to the wealthiest charter schools. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Tim Alberta
April 2, 2014, 1:33 p.m.

House con­ser­vat­ives un­loaded on their Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers in two closed-door meet­ings Wed­nes­day, a re­sponse to last week’s man­euver to ex­tend the so-called doc fix with an un­ex­pec­ted voice vote. Nev­er­the­less, most mem­bers said they would not seek re­tri­bu­tion by vot­ing against Rep. Paul Ry­an’s budget pro­pos­al next week.

Ten­sions flared ini­tially at Wed­nes­day morn­ing’s Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence meet­ing over what con­ser­vat­ives called a “sneaky” de­cision by GOP lead­er­ship last Thursday to patch the sus­tain­able growth rate re­quire­ment in the Medi­care pro­gram with a simple voice vote, thereby avoid­ing a po­ten­tially dis­astrous roll-call vote.

Rep. Mick Mul­vaney of South Car­o­lina, who last week called lead­er­ship’s de­cision “bull­shit,” let it be known that fur­ther dis­cus­sion would be had at Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon’s gath­er­ing of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee.

Soon after, ru­mors star­ted to cir­cu­late that some con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers might vote against Ry­an’s budget pro­pos­al — which hits the House floor next week — as pay­back for the “doc fix” man­euver.

Per­haps seek­ing to head off any such or­ches­tra­tion, House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor at­ten­ded the RSC meet­ing seek­ing to quell con­cerns from the con­ser­vat­ive rank and file. RSC mem­bers ap­pre­ci­ated Can­tor’s pres­ence and gave him an ova­tion for show­ing up — but only after giv­ing him an ear­ful for what happened last week.

“I’m get­ting used to be­ing de­ceived by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but when my own lead­er­ship does it, it’s just not ac­cept­able,” Rep. Matt Sal­mon of Ari­zona said fol­low­ing the RSC meet­ing.

This al­leged trick­ery was the fo­cus of pas­sion­ate speeches from Mul­vaney, Rep. Joe Bar­ton of Texas, and Rep. Thomas Massie of Ken­tucky, ac­cord­ing to people in at­tend­ance. These con­ser­vat­ives, and more, used the oc­ca­sion to “speak their mind to Lead­er Can­tor,” said a smil­ing Rep. Randy Weber of Texas.

RSC Chair­man Steve Scal­ise took the rare step of re­mov­ing staffers from the meet­ing room be­fore the ex­change with Can­tor began, speak­ing to the in­tense frus­tra­tion felt by some mem­bers — and the need to “vent­il­ate” it, as Rep. John Flem­ing of Louisi­ana put it.

Can­tor, ac­cord­ing to mem­bers, ex­pressed some re­gret over the voice-vote pro­cess. He said cir­cum­stances wer­en’t ideal, with the cur­rent SGR patch ex­pir­ing on Monday and sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans — in­clud­ing mem­bers of the “doc caucus” — ex­press­ing last-minute con­cerns.

“It was the least-bad op­tion,” Can­tor told RSC mem­bers of the voice-vote de­cision, ac­cord­ing to mul­tiple people in at­tend­ance.

Some RSC mem­bers re­jec­ted that ex­plan­a­tion. Oth­ers sym­path­ized with the pre­dic­a­ment faced by Can­tor — who was fly­ing solo on Thursday, with Speak­er John Boehner out of town — and said they were pre­pared to move on from the in­cid­ent.

Whatever the res­ol­u­tion, and des­pite the linger­ing ten­sions over the SGR vote, top con­ser­vat­ives in­dic­ated they will still sup­port Ry­an’s fisc­al 2015 House budget — and pre­dicted it will have suf­fi­cient GOP sup­port to pass on the floor next week, des­pite con­cerns about the top-line spend­ing num­ber.

“This is about a policy vis­ion,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the former RSC chair­man who voted against last year’s budget com­prom­ise and the sub­sequent om­ni­bus pack­age.

Sev­er­al oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans echoed that sen­ti­ment, say­ing that while they re­ject the over­all spend­ing fig­ure for fisc­al 2015, they sup­port Ry­an’s ef­forts to work with­in it and define gov­ern­ment spend­ing by con­ser­vat­ive stand­ards. Ry­an’s new budget pro­pos­al, like sev­er­al it­er­a­tions be­fore it, bal­ances the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s books by de­fund­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act, of­fer­ing a vouch­er-style al­tern­at­ive to Medi­care, and cut­ting spend­ing on food stamps and Pell Grants.

The RSC will soon un­veil its own budget doc­u­ment, which is offered an­nu­ally as an amend­ment to the House GOP doc­u­ment — and meant to draw an ideo­lo­gic­al con­trast with­in the party.

“If the RSC budget could pass, I might not vote for the Ry­an budget,” said Rep. Trent Franks of Ari­zona, one of the House’s most con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers. “But I don’t think the RSC budget can pass.”

In­deed, last year’s RSC blue­print — which bal­anced the budget in four years, com­pared with Ry­an’s 10 — could not muster enough votes on the House floor. The reas­on: It was too con­ser­vat­ive for many Re­pub­lic­ans.

Pre­dict­ably, then, Ry­an’s budget won’t be con­ser­vat­ive enough for some in the GOP.

“We face an eco­nom­ic emer­gency as a na­tion. We’ve got to bal­ance this budget right away,” said Rep. Paul Broun of Geor­gia, who’s seek­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate nom­in­a­tion against sev­er­al House col­leagues. When asked if 10 years isn’t soon enough, Broun replied: “No. And that’s not go­ing to hap­pen any­way. It’s empty prom­ises.”

Re­pub­lic­ans ac­count for 233 of the 432 vot­ing House mem­bers, with three seats cur­rently va­cant. With no Demo­crats ex­pec­ted to back Ry­an’s budget pro­pos­al, Boehner’s lead­er­ship can af­ford to lose 16 Re­pub­lic­ans and still pass the budget with the re­quis­ite 217 votes.

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