House conservatives and defense hawks are both pressuring the leaders of budget negotiations, who are trying to line up enough support for a deal to pass the House next week.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) could announce as soon as Monday a two-year budget deal that would replace some of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.
Last minute pressure from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to include unemployment insurance extension in the deal has complicated matters and threatens to deprive the deal of Democratic votes, as does union pressure against cuts to federal retirement benefits.
The final size of the deal and which replacement cuts are used very much depends on cobbling together a bipartisan coalition of support to pass it.
If House Democrats turn against the deal, Ryan and GOP leaders will need all but 15 members of their Republican conference to pass the deal on party lines.
“We have talked to Paul at length,” conservative deficit hawk Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said Friday. “We would be more than happy to replace the sequester … if it’s real savings, not smoke and mirrors, and not a dollar today for a dollar 20 years from now, certainly it is something that conservatives could support."
Mulvaney, who has served on the budget committee since coming to Congress in 2011, said that conservatives generally do not want billions of dollars in cuts to this year’s budget to be reversed and paid for by savings down the road, but he signaled some flexibility if the changes are “structural” and lock in “dramatically” larger cuts later.
“We are not being myopic,” he said.
Mulvaney and fellow conservative Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Wednesday organized a letter of support for passing a sequester-level continuing resolution if the right deal is not found. It has 35 signatures, Mulvaney said.
The Ryan-Murray deal is likely to only replace half or less of the annual $91 billion sequester, but conservatives say they are willing to replace all of it in exchange for bigger ticket mandatory savings.
Murray and Ryan are not expected to include any tax hikes in the deal, but they are looking at increasing some user fees, such as for air travel. It’s something that makes some rank-and-file Republican uncomfortable.
“Let’s just say I’m skeptical of user fees,” Mulvaney said.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who serves on the budget conference committee and is a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said that leaders would have to whip any deal that comes out and signaled they could need Democratic help.
“I think that if there’s a deal, our leadership, our whip team will work very hard to deliver a substantial number of Republican votes for it,” he said Thursday. “The alternative from a Democratic standpoint is unacceptable so I hope that they participate in finding votes.”
Ryan is also under pressure from defense hawks to at the very least turn off $20 billion in new cuts coming to the Pentagon next year, and preferably to turn off the combined $108 billion in defense cuts slated for 2014 and 2015.
“I don’t want to do anything to influence them other than get the max amount for defense that they can come up with. I think Paul is in that same position, and I hope they, I just hope they get a deal,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Thursday.
Cole said he takes a similar position to McKeon on the issue of how much of the sequester should be replaced.
“I consider myself one of the defense hawks. I need as much as I can get but I also need a deal,” he said.
Jeremy Herb contributed to this story.