By Bernie Becker and Russell Berman - 03/30/14 06:00 AM EDT
House Republican leaders could easily lose more votes on their budget in 2014 than they did last year, making it even tougher to get it through the lower chamber.
Republicans can only afford 16 defections if all Democrats vote against the GOP budget as expected, and election year pressures will add to the difficulty of staving off defections on what is expected to be a party-line vote.
Several other Republicans who opposed the budget last year said in interviews they had no plans to flip their position this year.
Republicans leaning toward voting "no" say leadership has yet to give them the heavy sell on a budget expected to be released next week and to hit the House floor the week after.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, acknowledged that Republicans faced a new set of challenges this year, not least the higher spending cap for 2015 enacted in the budget deal struck last year by Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
“It’s significantly harder, because you’ve got President Obama and his economy, which is in the doldrums,” Price told The Hill. “You have to do some more reforms, and it just gets harder every year.”
But Price also gave a full-throated defense of the latest budget, Ryan’s fourth as House budget chairman, and gave no indications that he was concerned about the Republican rank-and-file abandoning the budget this time around. The Budget panel is expected to consider the newest framework on Wednesday.
“I think that it essentially parallels the policies that we put in last year,” said Price, who then rattled off familiar proposals to change Medicare and Medicaid, roll back the Dodd-Frank overhaul of financial regulations and increase defense spending and energy exploration. “It reforms the kinds of things we want to reform.”
Still, it’s clear that Ryan and GOP leaders face an even more difficult balancing act than usual, and Republican aides privately suggest this could be the toughest budget yet to pass.
Only four Republicans voted against Ryan’s budget in 2011, but that number grew to 10 the last two years. No Democrats are expected to vote for the budget for a fourth straight year.
More than 60 House Republicans – or almost four times as many as the GOP can afford to lose – voted against the Ryan-Murray deal in December that installed a $1.014 trillion spending cap for 2015
“If it’s at the same spending level as Ryan-Murray, it would be very difficult for me to vote for it,” said Kingston, who is running for Senate this year after voting for the last three Ryan budgets.
Two of Kingston’s primary opponents, Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, both voted against the budget last year.
Looking further down the line, Ryan and company also have to deal with a more pessimistic outlook for 2024, the final year in the decade-long budget window.
Like previous years, the GOP budget will contain no tax increases, meaning that Republicans will likely have to rely on even more aggressive spending cuts that could make more vulnerable incumbents queasy.
For conservatives like Huelskamp, the problem on that front is that the budget would balance 10 years from now – not 10 years from 2013, when House Republicans first proposed to erase the deficit within a decade.
“We should have gained a year,” said Huelskamp, who voted for the Ryan budgets in 2011 and 2013, with a no vote sandwiched in between.
Huelskamp also complained that while the party keeps passing budget resolutions that call for major changes to the tax code and entitlement reforms, the House has yet to vote on any legislation that would implement that vision.
“If you’re serious about the budget, which apparently they are, then we should be bringing up parts of the budget for debate,” he said.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a freshman who voted against the budget in 2013, also said he was leaning toward voting "no," while his ally, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), said he was undecided. Amash has voted against the last two Ryan budgets.
Both young conservatives said their broader concern was that the budget wouldn’t be aggressive enough in general.
“I campaigned on needing to balance the budget in the next five years, not 10 years. And I need a budget that makes some serious course corrections in the next year,” Massie said. “I can’t vote for a budget that fixes everything eight years from now. The only thing we can be accountable for is the next year that we’re in Congress.”
Ryan faces a host of other challenges as well: GOP leaders have said that the cap on defense spending will stay in place in 2015. But the Republican plan to increase spending after that could put even more strain on popular non-defense programs.
Plus, Price said that Republicans planned to keep the tax reform framework – lowering both the top individual and corporate rates to 25 percent – that Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp first laid out two years ago. In his recent draft proposal, Camp was only able to get the individual rate down to 35 percent.
“It’s going to be a little bit more contentious to get it done,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), who plans to back Ryan’s budget again. “I think it’s definitely going to be lively.”
But those expected to be no votes say that the GOP brass are at least not outwardly showing any concern.
Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), a second-term lawmaker from a competitive district with a high percentage of older voters, has voted against the Ryan budget each of the last three years and said he told the leadership he planned to vote against it again in April.
“If they were struggling, they may have tried to massage something or offer me something, but they didn’t do that,” he said. “So I think they’re fine. But whatever they want to do they’re going to do. I know where I’m going to be.”
Kingston said he wasn’t getting lobbied very hard, either. “They usually get there,” he said about leadership and budget votes.