By Molly K. Hooper and Russell Berman - 03/21/13 09:00 AM EDT
Republican leaders are poised to pass Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget on Thursday, having convinced centrists and conservatives to back the blueprint that Democrats believe is their road map back to the House majority.
As of late Wednesday, only three Republicans had publicly said they intend to vote against the Ryan plan, while 33 House GOP lawmakers were undecided or declined to comment, according to a whip count conducted by The Hill. Among the undecided lawmakers, several noted they would probably support the measure.
With all Democrats expected to vote “no,” House Republicans can only afford about 15 defections. Last year, 10 Republicans rejected Ryan’s budget; the House GOP majority is smaller in 2013.
Ryan had floated changing some Medicare provisions in his new budget, but backtracked when centrists balked.
Still, Democrats believe the Ryan plan will be a gift to them in the 2014 election, claiming that the House Budget Committee chairman’s proposal was a major reason why they picked up eight seats last year. Democrats will be especially tracking the votes of Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and David Joyce (R-Ohio), whose seats are being targeted next year.
The three Republicans who are publicly opposed to the Ryan budget are Reps. Paul Broun (Ga.), Walter Jones (N.C.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.). Broun backed Ryan’s budget in the last Congress, while Jones did not. This will be Massie’s first vote on a Ryan budget.
Even though the GOP’s policy blueprint was on track for a seamless Thursday morning passage, Wednesday was not without 20 anxiety-ridden minutes for GOP leaders, when the lower chamber voted on the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) budget alternative.
Just like they did in 2011, House Democrats pitted Republican against Republican when the minority party voted “present” on the RSC plan. Had the alternative plan passed, it would have replaced the Ryan plan.
The RSC plan, which would balance the budget by 2017 and hike the Social Security eligibility age to 70, went down 104-132. 171 Democrats voted “present.”
An email sent to Democratic members before the roll call stated, “Voting ‘present’ takes Democrats out of the equation so the American people can see just how extreme the Republican conference truly is.”
During the vote, Ryan called out to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on the floor, joking “Hey Steny! Have a nice day ... your members have all these conflicts of interests.”
Hoyer said with a laugh, “Oh, we know our interests.”
The expected passage of the Ryan budget on Thursday will be a significant triumph for Republican leaders, who have struggled to pass controversial bills without Democratic support.
A high-ranking GOP leadership aide said that leaders invested in an “extensive” back-and-forth discussion process with the members of their conference — starting with the mid-January GOP retreat in Williamsburg, Va.
At that gathering, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants agreed to a key item on the wish list of House conservatives: a 10-year balanced budget.
Since that time, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Ryan and other leaders have met with various internal GOP caucuses. They talked at conference meetings, one on one and in larger groups to ensure that they had the right formula for success, the source explained to The Hill.
“It’s a multi-layer, multi-faceted effort that really gets buy-in from the members for what the committee’s doing,” the aide said.
Ryan was able to incorporate those ideas into his budget blueprint that would repeal ObamaCare and calls for a major overhaul of the tax code.
In the lead-up to the vote on Ryan’s budget, the House defeated several alternative budget proposals, including from the Congressional Black Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and the Senate Democratic Caucus.
The Senate budget plan, which senators are hoping to pass by this weekend, fell in a 154-261 vote. House Democratic leaders urged their caucus to vote for the measure, and Democrats favored it, 154-35.
Despite conservative support for Ryan’s budget plan, some lawmakers worried that their leadership won’t offer the follow-up legislation to make good on the ideas put forth in the blueprint.
“It’s not just passing the Ryan budget. It’s actually implementing and passing legislation that gets us to balance in 10 years,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) said at an event Wednesday on Capitol Hill. “That’s the plan that I support, and I believe that that’s the plan that most conservatives support. Some people in this conference believe that the plan is just to pass the Paul Ryan budget and once we pass the Ryan budget, then we have met ... all of our goals.”
“My goal,” he added, “is not to pass a meaningless document by itself unless we actually implement the policies that will get us to a 10-year balance.”
Boehner on Tuesday said House leaders would begin discussions with members after the two-week Easter recess on how to proceed on the debt ceiling.
Congress in February enacted a suspension of the statutory borrowing limit through mid-May, and the Treasury Department is expected to have the means to avoid a default on the debt well into the summer.
— Pete Kasperowicz and Erik Wasson contributed.