‘Just say no’ budget caucus grows

The Hill

The House offered up a buffet of six budgets this week for members to chose from, but one group of lawmakers decided they weren’t hungry for any of those options.

This year the “just say no” caucus grew to 37 members, all of whom voted against all six choices. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by a 31 to 6 margin in the group.

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That’s an increase from 2012, when 14 lawmakers panned seven budget plans and the 24 who were all-around naysayers in 2011. Last year the caucus numbered 34 members.

The Republicans in the group are a small mix of centrist members and conservatives. These members appear to be worried about the cuts to entitlement spending including Medicare in the House GOP budget, which passed the chamber on Thursday, and about the steeper cuts in the Republican Study Committee plan.

Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) both issued statements explaining that there were specific cuts in the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that they could not support.

“With double-digit unemployment in my district, further reductions in food stamps, the children’s health insurance program, student loans and other essential domestic programs vital to the families I represent is not something I can support at this time,” LoBiondo said.

Reps. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and David Jolly (R-Fla.) hail from swing districts and did not explain their votes. Jolly’s office said the congressmen, who won a special election last month, does not have any spokesman yet.

On the other hand, conservative Rep. Rick Crawford’s (R-Ark.) office said that he will "not vote for non-binding budget resolutions until Congress enacts permanent spending controls.” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said he would not vote for budgets with any foreign aid and that he opposed the GOP plan’s Medicare cuts.

The main reason for the increase in the "just say no" caucus after 2012 has been the lack of a budget that many centrist Democrats, mainly from the dwindling Blue Dog coalition, can support.

In 2012, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who rejected every budget plan this year, offered a bipartisan alternative that drew 38 centrist from both sides. The plan had tax revenue increases and entitlement cuts based on the Simpson-Bowles commission.

"There were good elements in both budgets, but Congress missed another opportunity to pass a bipartisan and balanced budget that's big enough to address our problems,” Cooper said. “Two years ago, I offered the only bipartisan and balanced budget that year, but only 38 members had the courage to vote for it. Two years later, the partisanship is even worse, and there is little appetite among my colleagues to compromise.”

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) also highlighted his support for the 2012 Cooper budget in explaining his no votes on everything this time. Himes said Cooper's plan “would equitably reform our mandatory spending programs to make sure they are sustainable in the long term.”

All 31 Democrats who rejected the House Democratic leadership budget also rejected the Congressional Black Caucus budget and Congressional Progressive Caucus budget. They also rejected one based on President Obama's budget — the House voted 2-413 against that proposal.

Three Democrats are new members to the “just say no” caucus — they voted for last year’s House Democratic budget but turned against it this year. The budgets, both authored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), are essentially the same in that they do not balance, raise tax revenue and back stimulus spending.

Reps. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), who is in a tough reelection fight, each switched.

Rahall and Duckworth said they opposed all the non-binding budgets because they supported existing December budget deal that already set appropriations spending for 2015.

"In the absence of a proper budget agreement last year, I felt that the Democratic budget was a starting point for compromise and served as a statement of priorities I believe in,” Duckworth explained. “While the Ryan-Murray deal was far from perfect, that two year agreement allowed our nation to move forward. With an agreement already in place, we should not be voting on budgets that have no chance of becoming law.”

Rahall spokesman Diane Luensmann said “the congressman didn't want to reopen the budget debate so soon after Ryan-Murray.”

Asked about the switch, Sanchez’s office sent a statement that just explained her new no vote on the Van Hollen budget.

“I did not vote for the Democratic alternative budget because, as a Blue Dog, it did not meet the commitment of reducing our long term federal debt and deficits,” Sanchez said.

While “say no” caucus members are universally unsatisfied now, the could represent the core of a deficit grand bargain in the future.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said both sides just need to come to the bargaining table.

“These budgets were created in partisan silos with no collaboration between Republicans and Democrats," she said.

"Last spring, I voted against partisan budgets, demanding Congress put the American people ahead of partisan politics. Today, I voted against more partisan games."

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