Budget vote goes down to the wire

Greg Nash

House Republican leaders expressed confidence on the eve of Thursday’s vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget, even as they made last-minute moves to prevent an embarrassing defeat.

“I feel comfortable about where the budget is,” GOP Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.) said. “I think the budget is going out of here like a freight train.”

Republicans can afford no more than 17 defections on the budget vote, given the near certainty that all Democrats will vote against it. The math gives Roskam and other party leaders little room for error.  

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The Ryan plan balances in 10 years by cutting $5.1 trillion and bringing discretionary social spending to $700 billion below sequestration levels. Securing votes for the plan has been a challenge; while some conservatives say the cuts don’t go far enough, several members from swing districts feel the reductions are too steep.

GOP leaders appeared to be very close to locking in the budget vote as of Wednesday evening. 

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) got some extra breathing room when it was revealed that Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) would miss the vote, allowing them to lose one more GOP member and still have a majority.

An informal whip count by The Hill indicated 12 House Republicans are “no” or “likely no” votes, while four others remain undecided. That left two wild card members who, together, could sink the budget. 

The eight firmest “no” votes appeared to be Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), David McKinley (R-W.Va.), Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).

The four “likely no” votes appeared to be Reps. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). Huelskamp has sounded like a more solid “no” in recent days, but he avoided questions Wednesday.

Four members or their offices told The Hill on Wednesday they were still undecided about the budget: Reps. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho.), Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Joe Heck (R-Nev.) and Steve Stockman (R-Texas).

That leaves the wild cards. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who had said he was undecided, gave a “no comment” on Wednesday when asked about the budget vote. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) said he has been “thinking about” voting for the budget but remains undecided. Hall is facing a primary challenger from the right.

In positive developments for GOP leaders, Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) was said by colleagues to be moving toward “yes” while remaining officially undecided, and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said that he would vote for the Ryan plan.

Tea Party leader Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who is retiring, said late Wednesday that she is a “lean yes” after studying the document in detail. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) clarified that he is also leaning “yes” on the Ryan plan, and he was reading the entire budget before deciding. 

As the number of undecided lawmakers dwindles, pressure could increase on the holdouts. As one member put it, no one wants to be singled out as the lawmaker who brought down the Ryan budget, given his popularity in the conference. 

The final budget vote will come after the House considers an alternative from Democrats that does not balance, ends all domestic sequestration cuts and raises taxes. The House will also vote on a Republican Study Committee (RSC) budget that balances in four years.

A GOP aide said most conservatives are adopting a “yes-yes” approach to both the RSC and Ryan plans, adding that the chance to offer an alternative vision was crucial to getting them on board. 

The RSC plan cuts spending starting in 2015, while the Ryan budget leaves the December budget deal in place so as to allow appropriators to proceed to crafting 12 annual spending bills. 

Appropriators had made clear to House leaders that they had no interest in re-litigating the top-line $1.014 trillion discretionary level for 2015, and they underscored that by moving two bills out of committee on Wednesday tailored to that level. The markup represented the earliest start for appropriations on record.

Russell Berman contributed.