House GOP’s Debt Limit Plan Is Slap in the Face to Paul Ryan

Republicans agreed Monday night to overturn a Ryan provision in exchange for a debt-ceiling vote.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
Feb. 10, 2014, 1:16 p.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans agreed on a plan Monday to in­crease the debt ceil­ing, weeks be­fore Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew has in­dic­ated the U.S. will de­fault. The pro­pos­al is likely to earn the back­ing of a bi­par­tis­an group of mem­bers and pass the House eas­ily on Wed­nes­day.

But in all of the back-slap­ping over House Re­pub­lic­ans’ avoid­ing an­oth­er last-minute battle over the na­tion’s fin­ances, one clear loser stands out: Rep. Paul Ry­an.

To get an agree­ment that would at­tract their own mem­bers and Demo­crats alike, House Re­pub­lic­ans threw one of their own un­der the bus just two months after he ac­cep­ted con­grat­u­la­tions along­side Sen. Patty Mur­ray as the two who beat the odds and not only for­mu­lated — but passed — a two-year budget deal in one of the most in­tract­able Con­gresses in memory.

House Re­pub­lic­ans agreed to their plan to raise the debt lim­it Monday even­ing, adding it to le­gis­la­tion that would re­peal cuts to re­tired mil­it­ary per­son­nel’s pen­sion plans, says Rep. Den­nis Ross of Flor­ida. Ry­an spe­cific­ally pushed for those cuts in his ne­go­ti­ations with Mur­ray late last year. That re­peal will be paid for by ex­tend­ing se­quest­ra­tion for man­dat­ory spend­ing by one year. That ex­ten­sion won’t come for 10 years.

Ross said GOP re­ac­tion to the plan was “mixed.” The pro­pos­al does not have the sup­port of the full Re­pub­lic­an caucus, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al oth­er GOP law­makers, but lead­er­ship will whip Monday night to find out where they stand.

Asked about the plan Monday night, Paul Ry­an re­peatedly said, “I’ve got noth­ing for you.”

Ry­an, who has cham­pioned en­ti­tle­ment re­form since tak­ing over the chair­man­ship of the House Budget Com­mit­tee, pushed hard for the cuts dur­ing the budget ne­go­ti­ations, know­ing he wouldn’t be able to get a lar­ger en­ti­tle­ment over­haul past the Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate.

But the piece­meal ap­proach to the over­haul of mil­it­ary pen­sions alone, which does not even take ef­fect un­til the end of 2015, has proven to be a pop­u­lar tar­get.

Neither party seemed thrilled with the cuts in the first place, and sev­er­al mem­bers of both parties cited the COLA changes in their de­cision to op­pose the budget deal in Decem­ber. The cuts have also been the tar­get of sev­er­al bills in the Sen­ate over the last few weeks. In fact, at the time House Re­pub­lic­ans were pitch­ing their plan to mem­ber­ship, the Sen­ate voted to in­voke clo­ture on a bill that would re­verse the cuts.

Mur­ray was quick to dis­tance her­self from the cuts, push­ing le­gis­la­tion that would re­verse the cuts for dis­abled vet­er­ans and those re­ceiv­ing sur­viv­ors’ be­ne­fits. Ry­an sup­por­ted the lat­ter move, but has held fast to his be­lief that the cuts are just the first step in a much longer, and ne­ces­sary, pro­cess of over­haul­ing the mil­it­ary pen­sion sys­tem as a whole, not­ing that pay­ments to re­tir­ees rose nearly 50 per­cent between fisc­al 2002 and fisc­al 2012.

Ry­an has noted that he is open to oth­er op­tions — as long as they are paid for and deal with the lar­ger is­sue of a bal­loon­ing sys­tem. Con­gress formed a com­mis­sion in 2012 that will re­lease its re­com­mend­a­tions for a more com­plete over­haul in early 2015.

“I stand be­hind the need for re­form.”¦ For me, there’s simply no choice between re­spons­ible re­forms of mil­it­ary com­pens­a­tion and mak­ing what our mil­it­ary lead­er­ship has called ‘dis­pro­por­tion­ate cuts to mil­it­ary read­i­ness and mod­ern­iz­a­tion.’ Every time we kick the can down the road, we put our troops’ com­bat read­i­ness at risk,” Ry­an wrote in a USA Today op-ed. “This agree­ment put for­ward one re­form op­tion, and I in­vite oth­ers to do the same.”

But Monday’s debt-lim­it agree­ment is hardly the kind of re­form plan Ry­an was look­ing for. It rolls back the cuts without provid­ing any pro­pos­als for fu­ture al­ter­a­tions to the pen­sion pro­gram.

In one sense, House lead­er­ship’s cal­cu­lus is simple: A small, but sig­ni­fic­ant, force of con­ser­vat­ives will not sup­port a debt hike without ma­jor con­ces­sions, and they’re un­likely to get them. Rep. John Flem­ing, a mem­ber of the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, es­tim­ated that 40 Re­pub­lic­ans are in that camp and would op­pose any of the debt-ceil­ing op­tions lead­er­ship is con­sid­er­ing. It’s a simple equa­tion — Speak­er John Boehner had to put something on the floor that will at­tract Demo­crats.

A res­tor­a­tion of the COLA cuts could cer­tainly do that, and bring in a num­ber of Re­pub­lic­an votes as well. Those in the House ma­jor­ity who are forced to vote for the debt ceil­ing hike will be able to go home to their con­stitu­ents with the mes­sage that they voted to re­store fund­ing for our vet­er­ans.

However, the pro­pos­al does little for the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence, which ini­tially called for spend­ing cuts in ex­change for rais­ing the debt lim­it. Rather than re­du­cing the de­fi­cit, re­vers­ing the mil­it­ary pen­sion cuts will ac­tu­ally cost $6 bil­lion through 2025. Even if Re­pub­lic­ans man­age to find a suit­able pay-for, the fix will have a neut­ral ef­fect.

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