House Republicans are quietly discussing the option of not writing a budget in 2014, a maneuver that would free up time on the legislative calendar and protect GOP lawmakers from a potentially damaging vote in an election year.
The idea of Republicans skipping this year's budgetary process seems odd when considering the House GOP made history last year by attaching a policy rider called "No Budget, No Pay" to a debt-limit extension. That measure tied lawmakers' salaries to budgets being written in both chambers and paved the way for a budget agreement between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray.
But unbeknownst to some lawmakers at the time—and still some today—is that "No Budget, No Pay" was a one-year provision. It is now expired. This, combined with the fact that Ryan-Murray set spending figures for the next fiscal year anyhow, has some House Republicans wondering if a budgeting process this year is really necessary.
"There are folks in the Republican Conference who don't want to pass a budget this year," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who disapproves of the idea. Asked to explain his colleagues' reasoning, Mulvaney mimicked: "We've already got a 302A number; why do we need a budget? Ryan-Murray set a number; why would we need to have a budget?"
A senior House GOP leadership aide confirmed there is a push coming from "political types" for House Republicans not to get engaged with a budget this year for fiscal 2015.
"Yes, there's been some of that," the aide said. The staffer identified some of those instigating such talk as people at the National Republican Campaign Committee. But he said he believed it is not getting much "traction" among House GOP leaders or members.
When pressed about such talk, NRCC Chairman Greg Walden dismissed it, saying he believes the House GOP will do a budget this spring. "I think we're fully headed in the direction of doing a budget. I think it's required by law," Walden said.
John Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, agreed: "House Republicans intend to pass a budget this year."
It makes sense for GOP campaign operatives to make such a push, according to several GOP lawmakers who asked not to be quoted on the subject. The previous Republican budgets passed by Ryan's committee and adopted by the House have been so ideologically charged, they explained, that some Republicans think it's time—especially in an election year—to avoid any polarizing votes that would hand ammunition to the Democrats.
But such a passive approach won't fly with conservatives in the GOP conference. As with health care reform, privacy legislation, and tax reform, the hard-liners in the party are urging House leadership to adopt their "bold" ideas—not just on paper, but on the House floor.
"It's one thing to say we're for this; it's another thing to say we're for this so much we're willing to take a vote on it, and debate it, and take the arrows that the other side is going to sling at us," said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. "I think that's important in an election year."
The congressional timetable sets April 15 as the deadline for completing action on the annual budget resolution.
Senate Democrats have not indicated whether they plan to write another budget this year, and Murray's office declined to shed light on the subject when asked about the chairwoman's plans.
Ryan spokesman William Allison said, "We don't have any announcements to make at this time." But he added, "It is Chairman Ryan's intent to again put forward a balanced budget."
Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, cochair of the "Tuesday Group" of moderate Republicans, said he doubted any such "no-budget" maneuver was seriously being considered in the House. At the same time, Dent and other Republicans suggested that ignoring the budget process one year after "No Budget, No Pay" could appear blatantly hypocritical.
Rep. James Lankford, the Republican Policy Committee chairman and a member of GOP leadership, said members have been approaching him recently to ask if, in fact, they can get away without doing a budget this year.
"Yes, there is still statutory responsibility to do a budget," Lankford said. "Now, if a budget is not done, it's true that a budget number is deemed.... That number is set. But the argument's not about the budget itself; the argument's really about a vision. How do we fix the long term deficit? You're not resolving that without a budget."
This article appears in the January 17, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.