The elevation of Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanPuerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Finance: GOP faces dilemma on spending bills | CEOs push Congress on tax rules | Trump talks energy Overnight Energy: Trump outlines 'America First' energy plan in North Dakota MORE (R-Wis.) to Speaker offered hope that Republicans in Congress will be able to overcome internecine warfare, put forward an aspirational agenda and once again refocus on reducing government spending. Though they’ve held the majority for five years, congressional Republicans have rarely shown the willingness to wage battle for optimistic conservative policies. And since 2011, budget battles have largely been dominated by those with the desire to increase federal spending.
Before he retired, Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE (R-Ohio) crafted a debt ceiling deal that included the framework for billions in increased federal spending. BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE said he was trying to “clean the barn” before retiring, but what he left behind was a pile of manure.
Congressional conservatives are eager to help Ryan make good on that promise. He has a chance to unite the party by turning things around. House Republicans are working on their next budget, and they should start by immediately lopping off the $30 billion of extra spending for the 2017 budget year built into it by the Boehner debt ceiling deal. Yes, that may well require taking it all out of domestic discretionary spending and leaving defense alone. The linkage between the two was bad policy to begin with, designed to enhance legislative leverage for President Obama’s liberal allies in the Congress.
Just because last fall’s debt deal also allowed lawmakers to break Congress’ own spending caps shouldn’t mean House Republicans need to craft their budget – a conservative Republican budget – in line with that widely repudiated deal.
In fact, it’s a deal that was passed in both chambers with unanimous Democrat support. In the House, only 79 Republicans voted for the extra spending, but it got by with 187 Democrats. In the Senate, all 44 Democrats voted with just 18 Republicans to get it through. This was not a Republican deal and few, if any, Republicans will publicly defend the deal.
As for the $30 billion, it’s just a fraction of one percent of the near-$4 trillion the federal government spends each year, but Democrats are already working to secure the next spending increase. A conservative budget should not embrace Democrat-initiated spending increases, rather it should propose bold reductions in federal spending and put forward aspirational policy prescriptions that unite the 218 most conservative House Republicans.
This budget will help define the direction of Speaker Ryan’s leadership. It will either be more of the same, or a clear effort to restore the limited government principles for which Republicans have stood.
For Republicans to succeed, they can’t keep repeating the failures of the past. Ryan correctly wants to cast a new vision for conservatives. Bold, pro-growth tax reform and much-needed welfare reform would be important accomplishments. But, casting a conservative budget vision is also crucial. After all, if you can’t cut $30 billion – that shouldn’t have been added to the budget in the first place – then why would the American people believe that promises to reform government and tackle federal spending in 2017 are anything more than lip service?
McIntosh is president of the Club for Growth and Needham is CEO of Heritage Action for America.