Ryan budget plan poised to pass House

The House on Thursday is poised to approve Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget measure, which would give Republicans a much-needed lift after months of intra-party squabbling.

Ryan's blueprint — which cuts $5.3 trillion in spending compared to President Obama's budget proposal — has been gaining traction among Republicans in recent days. Yet, conservative deficit hawks have called for deeper cuts, while some GOP appropriators have grumbled about the spending caps in the budget resolution.

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Passage would allow Republicans to unify around a major issue — reducing the deficit — after being fractured on how to handle the debt ceiling and the payroll tax bill late last year, and how to move a long-term highway bill, an issue they have not yet resolved. These divides have led to a resurgence of charges that Republicans can't govern, muddying their message of smaller government and economic prosperity that they hope to carry into the November elections.

But the budget debate has helped Republicans coalesce. For the last week, it has allowed GOP lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol to point out that Senate Democrats have failed to pass a budget in three years.

Senate Democrats, who will not seek to move a budget resolution on the floor in 2012, counter that they passed a budget last year when Obama signed the debt-ceiling deal.

GOP hopefuls have backed Ryan's proposal, which most closely resembles that of Mitt Romney. Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee, is seen as a possible vice presidential candidate this year.

Dozens of Republicans clearly prefer deeper cuts than Ryan has served up, and many have appeared openly dejected about not cutting as much as they were hoping over the last year. Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) voted against Ryan's budget in committee because it did not cut enough.

Still, members of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) have said most in that group would support the bill, despite offering their own alternative that would cut $2.2 trillion more in spending. And, of about 60 Republicans who have made a habit of frustrating GOP leaders by voting against leadership bills, about a third told The Hill this week that they were either leaning "yes" or would vote for Ryan's resolution.

All Democrats are expected to vote "no" on Thursday, meaning Republicans can only afford about two-dozen defections.

In 2011, the only Republicans to vote against Ryan's budget resolution were Walter Jones (N.C.), David McKinley (W.Va.), Ron Paul (Texas), and Denny Rehberg (Mont.). While Republicans are confident they have the votes to pass the Ryan budget, they acknowledge there will be more defections this time around.

Democrats pounced on the Medicare reforms in Ryan's 2011 budget, and the issue helped them win a special election in New York last year. Ryan has since revamped his Medicare provisions, but most Democrats say this budget is simply a rerun of last year's.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has likened Ryan's tinkering to putting "lipstick on a pig."

Before voting on the Ryan plan Thursday, the House will have to dispose of three budget alternatives. One is the RSC budget, a more aggressive plan that would cut $7.5 trillion over a decade compared to Obama's budget, in part by cutting and freezing discretionary spending until the budget balances.

Last year, the RSC budget failed 119-136, but only after most Democrats voted "present," a bit of mischief that forced some Republicans to switch their vote to "no" in order to ensure that Ryan's budget won the day. Democrats are expected to try the same move Thursday.

The other two budgets are from Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and the Progressive Caucus, and should be easily turned away given broad Republican opposition.

On Wednesday night, the House rejected three other budget alternatives. Perhaps the most interesting of these was a bipartisan plan that incorporated the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction recommendations, the first time the House had a chance to vote on those proposals.

But while this measure had high hopes for some centrist members, it failed 38-382.

Another alternative that fell short Wednesday night was one based on Obama's budget proposal, which was offered by Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.). That proposal was unanimously rejected 0-414, just hours after the White House blasted Mulvaney's bill as a political gimmick. A third plan, from the Congressional Black Caucus, failed in a 107-314 vote.

— Erik Wasson and Andres Feijoo contributed