Republicans Quietly Talk About Skipping Next Budget

After the Ryan-Murray deal set spending limits for the year, House Republicans question whether they need to produce a budget.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, presents his budget plan during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Billy House and Tim Alberta
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Billy House Tim Alberta
Jan. 16, 2014, 12:05 p.m.

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.”

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