GOP leaders see budget breakthrough

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House Republican leaders believe they have found a breakthrough in the weeks-long intraparty battle over a budget resolution.

The House Budget Committee plans to put forward a proposal next month that would keep the spending levels set by last fall’s deal with the White House, while giving members the chance to vote on other bills that would slash government spending, according to an aide.

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The proposal from Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) could break the bitter standoff with the party’s hard-right members, who have strongly criticized the $1.07 trillion spending levels set last year by President Obama and John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House 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 MORE, then the House Speaker.

“This proposal enjoys the overwhelming support of the committee members, and the chairman looks forward to sharing it with the broader Conference as we continue moving this process forward,” committee spokesman Ryan Murphy wrote in an email.

A vote on a budget blueprint for fiscal 2017 is important for Republican leaders because it would counter Democratic attacks about a “do-nothing” Congress and pave the way for work on appropriations bills. But passage of a budget has been thrown into doubt by the House Freedom Caucus, a group that is critical of the Obama-BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House 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 MORE agreement.

The conservative caucus has several dozen members, giving it the power to torpedo any budget proposal that lacks Democratic support. Should the Freedom Caucus back Price’s new proposal, it would likely be enough for GOP leaders to move forward.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Wis.), who previously served as chairman of the Budget Committee, has vowed to “restore order” to this year’s budget process, promising to avoid year-end fiscal cliffs that would drive the party into more unfavorable deals with Democrats.

The Budget Committee is now working on a delayed timeline, with a markup on the 2017 fiscal blueprint held later in March instead of next week.

Price said the new schedule would allow the budget proposal to be floated to the entire House GOP conference this week.

But the delay was quickly criticized by the Budget Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

“This delay is yet another indication that the extreme Tea Party is in control of the Republican majority,” Van Hollen wrote in a statement.

The Maryland Democrat, who is also running for Senate, delivered a preview of the election-year attacks that Republicans would face if they were to propose cuts to entitlement programs.

“As Republicans argue among themselves about just how much they’d like to cut Social Security, Medicare, and other vital safety net programs, Democrats stand ready to actually get things done for working families,” he said. 

Price has not yet said how the party will look to tackle the deficit, but any significant spending cuts will likely have to come from the mandatory spending on social safety net programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

An aide said House Republicans would have multiple options for deficit-reduction proposals. The party may look to vote on appropriations bills as separate legislation, or use a budget tactic known as reconciliation.

Reconciliation would require the GOP’s budget resolution to pass both the House and the Senate, which could prove difficult.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo MORE (R-Ky.) has a tough task protecting his majority in a year where the GOP is defending 24 Senate seats, while Democrats are protecting only 10.

Facing a charged fight over a Supreme Court vacancy, McConnell may be unlikely to bring up legislation that could require votes on politically toxic amendments, including cuts to entitlement spending.

The House GOP’s focus on deficit reduction will also be a test of unity during the first budget year without Boehner (R-Ohio), who resigned in October.

In a nod to his party’s jittery right flank, Ryan recently floated the idea of skipping a budget proposal altogether if the party couldn’t unite around one, and signaled he was willing to slow down the process even if it cost valuable time in a crammed calendar year.

So far, Freedom Caucus members appear willing to work with Ryan, praising his all-inclusive approach.  

“We’re used to being told what the right answer is,” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said.

“He made a lot of good logical points in there,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) added after the same meeting. “We’re having these discussions now, last year we weren’t having those discussions. Decisions were made differently than they are now.”

But some groups on the right are steadfast in arguing that the Obama-Boehner spending levels should not be kept.

Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, said Monday that the group would oppose any budget blueprint that sticks to the Obama-Boehner deal, which increases spending by about $30 billion.

He added that it was premature to know whether Heritage Action would support the GOP efforts to reform entitlement programs ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about how this would actually work in practice, what it means for the budget and what it means for the appropriations process,” Holler said. “Especially what it means for September, because that’s ultimately what everybody’s looking at.”

This post was updated March 18.