Conservatives Reject Budget Deal That Has Not Yet Been Reached

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, departs a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on November 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. Boehner commented on the ongoing problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act during his remarks.
National Journal
Billy House, Sarah Mimms and Tim Alberta
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Billy House Sarah Mimms and Tim Alberta
Dec. 9, 2013, 5:11 p.m.

On the eve of Rep. Paul Ry­an’s self-im­posed Tues­day dead­line to reach a budget agree­ment with Sen. Patty Mur­ray, there was still no fi­nal deal, ac­cord­ing to aides in both parties. And for a grow­ing fac­tion of Wash­ing­ton con­ser­vat­ives, that’s a good thing.

Ry­an, the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee co­chair, told House GOP com­rades last week that, “If we don’t have a deal by Tues­day, we prob­ably won’t have a deal at all.” He sug­ges­ted an agree­ment would have to be struck by Tues­day in or­der for lead­er­ship to vet the spe­cif­ics and sub­mit it to the Rules Com­mit­tee by Wed­nes­day. If that dead­line is met, law­makers could vote be­fore leav­ing Fri­day for the hol­i­day re­cess.

But as le­gis­lat­ive busi­ness closed Monday even­ing, there were scant signs of an im­min­ent budget break­through. A few law­makers wandered the Cap­it­ol’s cor­ridors, none of them claim­ing to have heard any­thing new on the ne­go­ti­ations. “There have been no con­fer­ence calls today, no emails, noth­ing,” one House Re­pub­lic­an law­maker, speak­ing on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity, said Monday.

That could be wel­come news for a grow­ing clique of Re­pub­lic­ans on Cap­it­ol Hill. In­deed, fresh evid­ence emerged Monday that con­ser­vat­ives — es­pe­cially in the lower cham­ber — could at­tempt to tor­pedo any deal that swaps se­quester cuts in ex­change for user fees and prom­ises of fu­ture spend­ing re­duc­tions.

“Right now, there is no deal. Peri­od.”

As the law­maker, a Ry­an ally, put it: “When we agree to fu­ture cuts, those cuts gen­er­ally don’t ma­ter­i­al­ize.”

In ad­di­tion, the con­ser­vat­ive power­house Her­it­age Ac­tion, which holds enorm­ous in­flu­ence over the House GOP, lent its voice to the op­pos­i­tion on Monday.

“Her­it­age Ac­tion can­not sup­port a budget deal that would in­crease spend­ing in the near-term for prom­ises of woe­fully in­ad­equate long-term re­duc­tions,” the group said in a state­ment. “While im­per­fect, the se­quester has proven to be an ef­fect­ive tool in for­cing Con­gress to re­duce dis­cre­tion­ary spend­ing, and a gim­micky, spend-now-cut-later deal will take our na­tion in the wrong dir­ec­tion.”

This think­ing has gained mo­mentum in con­ser­vat­ive circles in re­cent days, as evid­enced by a high-rank­ing Re­pub­lic­an aide who echoed Her­it­age’s state­ment minutes be­fore its re­lease. “High­er spend­ing and high­er rev­en­ues — what con­ser­vat­ive mem­ber could sup­port that?” the aide said.

In­deed, amid a flurry of ru­mors point­ing to a pending deal be­ing an­nounced this week, staffers on both sides of the aisle said mat­ter-of-factly that a fi­nal agree­ment has yet to be reached.

“Right now, there is no deal. Peri­od,” one seni­or Re­pub­lic­an aide said.

Speak­er John Boehner has said the House would pass a stop­gap bill if budget ne­go­ti­at­ors failed to reach an agree­ment.

But ac­cord­ing to aides, both Ry­an and Mur­ray were still press­ing to meet a timetable that, un­der vari­ous scen­ari­os per­mit­ted by House rules, would al­low a House floor vote by Fri­day af­ter­noon, when the cham­ber is sched­uled to ad­journ for the year.

“Paul Ry­an car­ries a sig­ni­fic­ant amount of weight with us — he’s not go­ing to throw us off the bus.”

Such a timetable would have Mur­ray and Ry­an un­veil­ing de­tails as early as Tues­day to oth­er top House and Sen­ate lead­ers. House Re­pub­lic­ans, as a con­fer­ence, are not sched­uled to meet un­til Wed­nes­day morn­ing, when Ry­an could form­ally lay out the de­tails to his col­leagues. An agree­ment as late as Wed­nes­day would still have time to be con­sidered for floor ac­tion by Fri­day, and the Sen­ate is set to be in ses­sion at least one more week.

One GOP law­maker who is al­lied with Ry­an said he re­mains “fairly op­tim­ist­ic” that a deal will be reached. But he said the ne­go­ti­ations are so “fra­gile” that it’s im­possible to pre­dict the out­come. An­oth­er House Re­pub­lic­an was more op­tim­ist­ic, say­ing he is con­fid­ent that if Ry­an does come up with a plan this week, it is one most rank-and-file Re­pub­lic­ans would sup­port.

“Paul Ry­an car­ries a sig­ni­fic­ant amount of weight with us — he’s not go­ing to throw us off the bus,” the Re­pub­lic­an said.

Both sides are still try­ing to fi­nal­ize a two-year plan that would keep gov­ern­ment open bey­ond Jan. 15 without rais­ing taxes, while also par­tially eas­ing some of the se­quester cuts to mil­it­ary and do­mest­ic pro­grams.

What is known so far about the con­tours of the draft is that it would add more than $40 bil­lion to the an­nu­al­ized top-line budget num­ber for fisc­al 2014, rais­ing it to more than $1 tril­lion from what would be $967 bil­lion un­der cur­rent law. The ad­ded money would be split between mil­it­ary and do­mest­ic spend­ing.

An­oth­er $25 bil­lion would be ad­ded in fisc­al 2015, and sim­il­arly split, with an­oth­er $20 bil­lion provided for de­fi­cit re­duc­tion.

What has re­mained un­settled is the spe­cif­ic make-up of so-called off­sets to al­low for the ad­ded spend­ing. The plan would not, as de­scribed by those who have re­ceived in­form­a­tion, close cor­por­ate loop­holes or raise taxes. Rather, it would rely on a menu of off­sets in the forms of high­er fees and oth­er man­euvers not yet fi­nal­ized.

Op­tions floated in­clude rais­ing the se­cur­ity fees on air­line tick­ets, mak­ing changes to fed­er­al re­tire­ment pro­grams that would in­crease work­er con­tri­bu­tions, and in­creas­ing premi­ums for pen­sion plans, a move backed by the Pen­sion Be­ne­fit Guar­anty Corp. The idea of in­creas­ing the amount of money that civil fed­er­al em­ploy­ees must con­trib­ute to their pen­sions is one that has drawn Demo­crat­ic fire, and on Monday con­tin­ued to eli­cit an­ger from fed­er­al em­ploy­ee uni­ons.

“They both think they’re close, but there are still some fi­nal is­sues,” a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide said of Ry­an and Mur­ray. “Some of the fi­nal is­sues that they’re deal­ing with are tough is­sues.”

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