With President Obama set to unveil his fiscal 2015 budget next week, Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that House Republicans, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, will produce their own complete, balanced spending plan later this year.
"I certainly expect so," Boehner said at a news conference, and his office says he hopes to bring the budget to the floor for a vote, too.
But there are serious questions about whether such a plan could pass in the House, and whether Republicans should — or even have to — produce a budget as they head toward November's elections.
If such a budget adhered to spending caps put in place by the two-year, $1.1 trillion budget deal passed in December — which Ryan helped create — passage could be difficult. Sixty-two House Republicans voted against that measure, meaning a similar spending plan would require Democratic support for passage. That could be difficult if Republicans turn their budget into a messaging vehicle.
Some Republicans say an "aspirational" budget filled with conservative policy could draw more support from the conference and help in the election. "I think what he's putting on the floor would be more an ideal" budget, said Rep. John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican.
But others say it could be a liability with thorny details that detract from broader, more conceptual and successful Republican attacks over the economy and Obamacare. Moreover, Republicans don't necessarily have to touch the budget issue, because the budget agreement set top-line numbers for 2015.
For his part, Ryan was noncommittal when asked Wednesday — before Boehner's statement — whether his committee would pass a budget this year. "We're just beginning the budget season," Ryan said. "But we're going to be working on it. We haven't gotten our numbers together yet."
Ryan didn't sound concerned about GOP lawmakers taking risks in an election year. Rather, the reason some Republicans favor skipping the budget process this year, Ryan said, is "because we have a budget in place" due to the budget deal.
But House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Tom Price said, "A budget is a whole lot more than just the top-line number. Fundamental reforms that get this economy rolling again, solve the challenges of Medicare and Medicaid, that put us on a appropriate plan for energy independence — those are the kinds of things that our budget addresses and those are the kinds of things I think that hopefully the conference will embrace."
The congressional timetable sets April 15 as the deadline for completing action on the annual budget resolution for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
For their part, Democrats who control the Senate aren't likely to pass a budget of their own this spring, though Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, who crafted the budget deal alongside Ryan, hasn't yet announced that.
"Chairman Murray is currently talking to her colleagues on and off the Budget Committee to determine the most productive way to build on the two-year budget deal and continue working to boost the economy, create jobs, and tackle our long-term deficit challenges fairly and responsibly," said spokesman Eli Zupnick.
House Budget Committee top Democrat Chris Van Hollen said Ryan could have trouble getting his budget passed unless he turns his back on the spending levels he agreed to as part of the bipartisan budget deal in December. He based this on the 62 fellow Republicans who voted against that measure.
"If Chairman Ryan and House Republican leadership want to pass their budget, they have a lot of work ahead of them. I think they'll have to use their full persuasive powers to get almost 50 Republicans who opposed the bipartisan deal in December to switch their position. Those members are not going to want to flip-flop on this issue," said Van Hollen.
But Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who was among the Republicans who voted against the agreement (and also voted against the omnibus spending bill passed in January) said he would not be worried about any such portrayals.
Rather, Sanford said his difficulties with the deal in December stemmed from the notion of "paying for things ten years out, and I had a problem with that." Sanford said he would not rule out voting for a new Ryan budget at those same spending levels, but "I'd want to see how it's put together, and how the pay-fors come."
Neither Sanford nor Rep. Trey Gowdy, another South Carolina Republican who unlike Sanford did vote for the deal in December, said they had any problem with House leaders proceeding with a budget in upcoming weeks. "I'd vote for just about anything with Ryan's name on it," Gowdy said.