By Erik Wasson
Republicans on the House Budget Committee have intensified their push to overcome differences and produce their 2013 budget resolution, meeting almost daily.
The GOP wants to be able to pass a budget without reaching out to any conservative Democrats, so it must find a way to resolve differences on discretionary spending and entitlements within the party conference.
Committee members said Tuesday they have not yet seen a draft framework and nor nailed down basics such as how to address Medicare and Social Security. Some expect negotiations to continue over the telephone next week.
The GOP is most deeply divided over whether discretionary spending caps in the August Budget Control Act should be in the budget or whether spending should be cut more deeply.
Budget Committee member Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) participated in a closed-door meeting with fellow GOP lawmakers on Tuesday, the first of several planned over the next few days.
Cole said that GOP lawmakers on the Budget Committee “are trying to work towards consensus. … I think we’ll get there in the end.”
“We are trying to find common ground, we are narrowing differences and having some really productive talks. Everybody who had differences were at the table, and the differences were smaller when we got up – two more sessions to go,” Cole explained.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said he favors capping 2013 spending at $1.028 trillion. That is the number Ryan had set for fiscal 2013 in last year’s 10-year budget.
In contrast, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) favors maintaining levels agreed upon in the August debt deal with the White House, keeping $1.047 trillion as the cap. He said Tuesday it is unclear when the impasse can be resolved.
The budget resolution sets an overall cap that appropriators then use to tailor their 12 annual spending bills, due by Sept. 30.
Simpson, an appropriator, wants Republicans to unite around that number so they do not have to rely on Democrats to pass annual spending bills in the fall.
Other Budget Committee members such as Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) want to go deeper than Price and assume an extra cut of $97 billion to annual discretionary spending, bringing the 2013 cap down to $931 billion.
The extra cut reflects the automatic cuts that were triggered by the failure of the supercommittee last year. President Obama’s budget assumed that the automatic cuts would be replaced with a mix of taxes and mandatory spending cuts elsewhere.
Price and his faction are open to replacing the sequestered cuts with trims to mandatory spending, including entitlements and farm subsidies.
Freshman Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he is not ready to reveal his position on the spending cap number and is listening to all sides.
Putting in lower spending caps will help Ryan achieve greater deficit reduction than that in Obama's 2013 budget and allow the party to draw a clear contrast with Democrats.
On a number occasions last year, GOP lawmakers who either supported
Ryan’s initial budget or the subsequent Budget Control Act (BCA), failed
to support the funding bills based on either the Ryan budget or the
BCA, leaving Republicans dependent on Democrats to stave off a
government shutdown this year.
A GOP appropriator who sits on the Budget Committee told The Hill the issue holding up the process at this point is not as much the difference between discretionary spending caps but whether those lawmakers insisting on a lower number will vote for appropriations bills at the lower number.
“I have a list of the guys who weren’t there for any of the appropriations bills, if they are going to be the ones who insist that we come down to this number, then they’ve actually got to vote to enact the budget that they voted for,” the GOP appropriator warned.
“If we pass [the $1.028 trillion number], let alone lower, then we’ve got to be confident that there are 218 votes for the appropriations bills. That’s one of the big discussions going on: You can’t ask for the lower number and then not support the individual [appropriations] bills that make up the lower number,” the lawmaker explained in an interview with The Hill.
Exceeding the president's deficit cuts is a challenge because the GOP won't raise taxes to close the fiscal gap, nor is it keen to cut retirement benefits for current seniors. The Ryan 2012 budget implemented changes to Medicare after the next decade, but budgets are scored on a 10-year basis.
Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said that though he is pushing for $931 billion, it was crucial that the House figure out a way to clear a 2013 budget.
“That’s not lost on me,” Mulvaney said about the 2010 election. “I know what I campaigned on. It’s important that we pass a budget.”
The South Carolina Republican also said he wanted whatever budget the House passes to balance in closer to eight years, which the most recent Republican Study Committee proposal did, instead of the 26 years assumed in last year’s Ryan budget.
“To a certain extent, we’re talking about a tempest in teapot,” Mulvaney said about all the Capitol Hill discussions about discretionary and nondiscretionary spending. “What folks back home want to know is, when do you stop borrowing money.”
Mulvaney also said that he expected the Congressional Budget Office to tell House members what baseline they would be using later this week or early next week, meaning much of the heavy lifting on the budget would come when the House is out of Washington next week.
Still, Mulvaney said he was unsure when the budget might get marked up.
“All I know is we intend to hit the April 15 deadline,” he said.
The committee is still weighing whether to transform Medicare into a mostly privatized system, as the GOP budget called for last year. Another option, developed by Ryan and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would keep traditional Medicare as an option.
Price said he strongly favors this approach, something he offered in a separate bill. Lankford said he is open to the idea.
Members said the committee is also looking at whether to include Social Security reforms this year, something left blank in last year’s GOP budget. At that time, Ryan said he left Social Security reform out in order keep the issue from being politicized and to allow back-channel negotiations to flourish.
With the White House looking to push deficit talks past the election, the GOP may bite the bullet and include Social Security this year.
— Bernie Becker and Molly K. Hooper contributed to this report.
— Updated at 4:41 p.m.