Should House Republicans Draft a Budget At All This Year?

They don’t have to, but Boehner is committed — and some see problems ahead.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
National Journal
Feb. 27, 2014, 10:16 a.m.

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.

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