By Erik Wasson and Russell Berman - 04/02/14 11:54 PM EDT
House Republican leaders say they have the looming Ryan budget vote covered.
“It’ll pass,” a confident Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday of the fiscal blueprint from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Ryan cuts spending by $5.1 trillion over 10 years and makes significant changes to Medicare that Democrats are already prepping for use in campaign commercials.
Some conservatives, meanwhile, have criticized it for not going far enough. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) called it “a joke” on her Facebook page.
GOP leaders can only afford 16 defections if House Democrats oppose the budget, as expected.
But so far, few members have come out with definite opposition.
Two Republicans, Reps. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) and Jack Kingston (Ga.), voted for last year’s budget but have told The Hill they are leaning against this proposal. Ten Republicans voted against the budget in 2013.
Most Republican lawmakers appear on board, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that leaders face “the same challenges we always have” in winning a vote.
Asked whether Republicans could write a budget that would satisfy all of its outside critics, the Speaker snapped, “No. No! If we want to make perfect the enemy of the good every day, we’d never get anything done.”
For fiscal 2015, Ryan keeps the $1.014 trillion discretionary spending ceiling called for in a two-year budget deal approved by Congress. But Ryan then cuts discretionary accounts deeper starting in 2016 in order to balance the budget by 2024.
The budget cuts spending by $308 billion below sequester levels for the next 10 years. That includes nondefense discretionary cuts of $791 billion. Defense spending is hiked by $483 billion.
A number of members are leaving their options open.
Asked how he planned to vote on the budget, which he has supported in the past, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) replied: “I have no idea.”
A few members grumbled on Wednesday over the $1.014 trillion spending ceiling, which is higher than in past Ryan budgets.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), who supported the budget in 2013, said he was still reading this year’s version but had reservations about the 2015 spending level from the December budget agreement, which he opposed.
“The negotiated number is significantly higher than we voted on last year,” he noted.
It’s also possible that hard feelings over a voice vote backed by GOP leaders last week could cost them some votes. The vote was on legislation to prevent a cut to physician payments under Medicare.
Still, there were signs of support for Ryan’s budget on Wednesday.
Conservative Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) said he supports the Ryan budget and dismissed Palin’s criticism.
“It is easy to be critical from the outside, but if you look at it, the [top line] we are operating under now is below the earlier Ryan budget that everybody hailed,” Graves said.
Many conservatives appeared to be coalescing around what they call the “yes-yes” strategy of supporting both the official Ryan budget and the more aggressive alternative offered by the Republican Study Committee (RSC), which is unlikely to pass.
“If the RSC budget could pass, I might not vote for the Ryan budget,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said.
Centrists also appear to be falling into line on the Ryan plan, even though it cuts spending below sequestration levels, which many appropriators oppose.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he would vote for it.
Last year, Rogers admonished his conference for refusing to pass a transportation and housing bill based on sequester levels, despite having approved a budget based on that level.
“We’ll just have to deal with it when we get there ... it is not going to become binding; it’s not a law by any stretch,” Rogers said. “It is pretty draconian.”
Even though Ryan cuts $23 billion more from farm spending levels and $125 billion more in food stamp cuts than those authorized by the new farm bill, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee says he’ll support it.
“I voted for it the last three times, didn’t I?” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).
GOP leaders have several days to get their whip count in order. The House Budget Committee approved the Ryan plan Wednesday evening, sending it to the floor for consideration.
The marathon markup featured a sharp debate in which Democrats sought to portray the plan as catering to wealthy conservative donors Charles and David Koch. They focused fire on the fact that it gets $2 trillion in savings from repealing ObamaCare but assumes higher revenue levels enacted as part of the law as well as Medicare cuts.
Numerous amendment votes put the GOP members on the committee on record opposing an extension of federal unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and approving the Senate’s immigration reform bill.