GOP Budget freshmen welcome collapse of omnibus spending bill

Incoming Republicans who are eager to take an ax to federal spending as members of the House Budget Committee said they are buoyed by the collapse of the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill last week.

In interviews with The Hill, six of the new committee members said they welcome the opportunity to force President Obama to accept quick cuts to federal spending next year.

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The House and Senate passed government funding through Tuesday and are set to take up a continuing resolution this week after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) nixed the earmark-filled omnibus late Thursday evening. “We're going to pass a short-term continuing resolution over into March,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union," but a Senate Democratic aide said a deal is not final and "there are still outstanding issues."

Rep.-elect Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said the collapse of the omnibus presents Republicans with a chance to pursue budget reform.

“We have to take every opportunity to rein in runaway spending,” he said. “It does give more leverage.”

The six Republicans interviewed by The Hill said they would look to force deep cuts in the next round of spending bills and during the 2012 budget cycle. Each rejected Democratic arguments that higher government spending is needed to ensure an economic recovery in the short term and said spending cuts should come in 2011.

In a sign of change for the GOP, the new Budget Committee members said that defense cuts must be on the table along with social spending to reduce the deficit.

They also expressed unease about the vote to increase the nation’s $14 trillion debt ceiling next spring, although some said they are leaning toward voting in favor over fears of what a default on the debt would do to the economy.

Some members were cautious about which spending cuts they would prioritize, and only some said they are ready to back a plan from incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to restructure entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.

The members interviewed also said that they would embrace a plan to simplify the tax code similar to the one proposed by President Obama’s deficit commission. They said tax reform could be an important point of discussion with the president next year, but the reform must lower the overall tax burden.

Huelskamp said spending cuts are the only way to balance the budget and argued that tax increases must be off the table. He said “fairer” tax rates that are less complicated would get his support.

Rep.-elect Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who defeated current House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) in November, said he would vote against any attempt to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

“I have heard people say that if we don’t do it it will be the end of the world,” he said. “I have yet to meet someone who can articulate the negative consequences.”

Mulvaney said that 2011 spending needs to be reduced to 2008 discretionary levels, and argued that the demise of the omnibus offers that opportunity.

“I was stunned that the Democrats even offered it. It showed a tin ear to what elections are all about,” he said.

Rep.-elect Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) described the omnibus as a “boondoggle” and agreed that the continuing budget resolution gives Republicans more leverage. But he said he believes the president has heard the electorate’s message on spending cuts.

Ribble said he disagrees with Democrats who want to put spending cuts on hold, because “the recovery is not about dollars in circulation … it is about psychology.”

“If they see Congress get serious about a balanced budget, that will be a powerful signal to business,” he said.

Rep.-elect Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) said he is excited to join the Budget Committee “to learn at the knee of Paul Ryan, someone I very much respect.” He said he is a strong supporter of Ryan’s roadmap to reduce the debt.

Rokita touted successes at balancing the budget in Indiana, where he has served as secretary of state. Indiana returned its budget to 2008 spending levels and slashed another 15 percent in spending. “We didn’t cherry-pick what we cut, we took an across-the-board approach,” Rokita said.

“Recovery or not, trimming the fat out of government is always a good idea, and all I have seen in Washington is fat,” he said.

Rokita described the debt-ceiling vote as “the hardest vote I will take this year. It might be the hardest vote of the term. ... The slogan of my campaign is ‘stop the spending,’ and now I may have to vote to raise the debt before August recess?”

He said the only way he would ever consider voting to raise the debt ceiling would be a hard guarantee that he would never have to vote to raise it again in the future.

Rep.-elect James Lankford (R-Okla.) said the debt ceiling vote is a “lose-lose situation,” but added that the ceiling will have to be raised if the nation is going to function. In contrast to the other Republicans interviewed, he said that reducing the deficit through spending cuts alone might not be the answer.

“There is no simple solution,” he said. Lankford said that close examination of the government procurement process is a top priority for achieving savings.

He said the budget resolution must contain entitlement reform, but he is still reviewing Ryan's recommendation. “We have to be able to fulfill promises to seniors,” he said.

The House Republican Steering Committee on Thursday named 11 freshmen and two other new members to the Budget Committee. The 13 new members will make up nearly a majority of the expected 28 GOP members on the committee.

The committee said Friday that it does not have a final roster, but vice ranking member Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) appears to be the only member leaving the committee, in order to become Republican Conference chairman.

The other incoming Budget Committee freshmen are Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Bill Flores (R-Texas), Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Todd Young (R-Ind.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.).

The other new members of the committee are Reps. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.).

McClintock said Friday that the only circumstance under which he would raise the debt ceiling is “if there is a credible plan to repay that debt within one year.”

He said the deficit can’t be dealt with through any tax increases. He added that he supports the Paul Ryan plan to use vouchers in Medicare. He said the debt commission had some good ideas, and he likes the structure of its tax reform proposals. The overall revenue level was too high, though, he said.