Conservatives Backed the Budget Deal, and All They Got Was Grief

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) waits to appear in a live CNN interview as congressional staff continue negotiations in to the night at the U.S. Capitol on October 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. House Speaker John Boehner suggested earlier today that Republicans may be willing to offer a short-term debt limit increase to allow for time to negotiate on reopening the government.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
Jan. 14, 2014, 5:15 p.m.

When House con­ser­vat­ives signed on to the budget agree­ment in Decem­ber, they touted the idea of get­ting back to reg­u­lar or­der, the abil­ity to take a scalpel — and in some cases an axe — to pro­grams they’ve been try­ing to cut for years.

In­stead, they got a status-quo bill and a rushed pro­cess that has already come un­der at­tack by ma­jor con­ser­vat­ive groups like the Her­it­age Found­a­tion, Freedom­Works, and the Club for Growth. Most law­makers, the groups com­plain, won’t even have time to read the bill.

“If you’re afraid that sun­light will curdle your le­gis­lat­ive milk, maybe something’s rot­ten,” said Dean Clancy, vice pres­id­ent for pub­lic policy at Freedom­Works.

The situ­ation is one more ex­ample of di­vi­sion with­in the Re­pub­lic­an Party over fisc­al mat­ters and sus­tains the ten­sion that began when con­ser­vat­ive or­gan­iz­a­tions op­posed the Mur­ray-Ry­an budget in Decem­ber, lead­ing to a clash with House lead­er­ship.

A ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans are likely to back the bill any­way, ar­guing that it makes sig­ni­fic­ant cuts to over­all spend­ing, and Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers de­fen­ded it Tues­day. “This bill, for the fourth year in a row, cuts dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing, which has not happened since the Korean War,” House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers said. “And it re­duces fund­ing to be­low the level when Obama took of­fice. I don’t know what more any­body could want in terms of fed­er­al spend­ing.”

When Ro­gers took the bill to his caucus Tues­day, there were few ob­jec­tions from mem­bers, he said. Both he and Rep. Tom Cole, an Ok­lahoma Re­pub­lic­an and one of Ro­gers’ sub­com­mit­tee chair­men, said that they ex­pect the bill to earn a ma­jor­ity of votes on both sides of the aisle when it hits the House floor Wed­nes­day.

“Look, we had more wins than losses in this,” Cole said. “If you ac­tu­ally look at what dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing has been all the way back to the last year of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, where this is com­ing in, it’s pretty hard to say, if you’re a budget hawk, this does not move the ball sig­ni­fic­antly in the right dir­ec­tion.”

Still, Re­pub­lic­an ap­pro­pri­at­ors cut more spend­ing than the cur­rent om­ni­bus does in eight of the 10 ap­pro­pri­ations bills the cham­ber passed last year. The only de­part­ment that will see less fund­ing un­der the om­ni­bus than un­der the House Re­pub­lic­an plan is De­fense.

By con­trast, in four of the 12 bills in­cluded in the om­ni­bus, Pres­id­ent Obama got more fund­ing than he asked for in his 2014 budget. That in­cludes the fund­ing bills for Ag­ri­cul­ture and Rur­al De­vel­op­ment; Com­merce, Sci­ence, and Justice; Home­land Se­cur­ity; and In­teri­or and En­vir­on­ment.

Re­pub­lic­ans say that the 30-day al­lot­ment for fisc­al 2014 ap­pro­pri­ations just wasn’t suf­fi­cient to take up many of the policy changes their caucus has cham­pioned. Many of those fights had to be pushed off to fisc­al 2015, with Re­pub­lic­an ap­pro­pri­at­ors say­ing they’ll have more time.

But out­side groups say they’ve heard that tune be­fore. “Yeah, they’ve been telling us, “˜We’ll fight next time’ for years,” Clancy said.

Con­ser­vat­ive groups are also con­cerned about the short time frame in which mem­bers will pass the om­ni­bus. The House passed a short-term con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion on a voice vote Tues­day that would give Con­gress un­til mid­night Sat­urday to pass the bill. A vote on the om­ni­bus in the House is ex­pec­ted Wed­nes­day, while the Sen­ate will take up the meas­ure later this week.

In oth­er words, three years after House Re­pub­lic­ans re­leased their Pledge to Amer­ica, which in­cluded a prom­ise to post le­gis­la­tion on­line for at least three days be­fore vot­ing on it, House Re­pub­lic­ans have now giv­en them­selves less than 52 hours to read the 1,582-page bill be­fore it hits the floor.

Con­ser­vat­ive groups warn that the bill could be chock-full of pork pro­jects that mem­bers may not find un­til days after they pass it in­to law. Some law­makers have already sent out re­leases about be­ne­fits to their dis­tricts.

Even be­fore the le­gis­la­tion was re­leased on Monday, Freedom­Works an­nounced that it will score a “no” vote on the bill, ar­guing that mem­bers won’t have time to read it. Less than 24 hours after the bill was re­leased on­line, the Her­it­age Found­a­tion and Club for Growth joined them in key-vot­ing a “nay” on the meas­ure.

Freedom­Works has even gone so far as to com­pare House Speak­er John Boehner to Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, who fam­ously said of the Af­ford­able Care Act, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Freedom­Works and Her­it­age ar­gue that mem­bers are push­ing the om­ni­bus through a small win­dow to avoid too much pub­lic scru­tiny. The longer the om­ni­bus is out in the open, the ar­gu­ment goes, the more time spe­cial-in­terest groups will have to tear it apart.

Boehner, who had some harsh words for these out­side groups back in Decem­ber, said Tues­day that while he would like to have had more time to deal with the bill, Con­gress needs to pass the om­ni­bus “as soon as pos­sible” to avoid an­oth­er shut­down.

A Boehner spokes­man de­clined to com­ment on wheth­er the speak­er had con­sidered a longer-term CR to buy mem­bers more time.

Cole and Rep. Jack King­ston, who heads the Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee on Labor, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, and Edu­ca­tion, said Tues­day that not much in the om­ni­bus should be new to mem­bers. Many of the pro­vi­sions in the le­gis­la­tion are pulled from the Sen­ate- and House-passed ap­pro­pri­ations meas­ures.

“I think, un­der the cir­cum­stances, what we’re do­ing is ap­pro­pri­ate,” Boehner said.

COR­REC­TION: The ori­gin­al ver­sion of this art­icle mis­stated the num­ber of bills in the fisc­al 2014 om­ni­bus that awar­ded more money to Pres­id­ent Obama than he re­ques­ted in his budget; the cor­rect num­ber is four.

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