Cantor meeting fails to resolve Republican budget impasse

House Republicans on the Budget Committee were still at odds Thursday over the shape of a 2013 budget after a long meeting with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Members had hoped Cantor would smooth a budget compromise, but they are still divided over whether to follow the August debt-ceiling deal’s spending levels or to cut discretionary spending more deeply.

The debt ceiling deal set a cap of $1.047 trillion for 2013 but also imposes a $97 billion automatic cut starting in January. The debate is about whether or not to replace these added discretionary spending cuts with mandatory cuts, to reflect them in the budget, or to cut discretionary spending even deeper.

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Members said that they now are waiting for Congressional Budget Office baseline budget estimates to resolve the dispute. Those estimates will be released Tuesday and will be discussed by telephone during next week’s recess.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said only with CBO numbers in place can members assess when the budget based on a $1.047 trillion cap or lower numbers will balance.

The 2012 House budget would not have balanced for at least 26 years, and some conservatives were not comfortable with that. They want to see if a compromise budget based on the 2012 numbers, which had $1.028 trillion in spending in 2013, can be made to balance sooner before agreeing to it.

Meeting participants said they were confident that the impasse can be resolved by the end of March.

A budget would have to pass this month to meet the statutory April 15 deadline because Congress has a two-week recess early next month. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hopes to have a committee markup by the week of March 19.

“We had a very productive meeting today,” Cantor said Thursday. “We’re looking forward to seeing the markup occur on schedule and the budget on the floor by the end of this month."

Ryan said: “We are on track and on schedule.”

Reps. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who are leading a fight to bring discretionary spending to less than $931 billion next year, said they believe the debate can be resolved on time.

“There is one thing there is consensus on, and that is that we need to have a budget,” Garrett said.

These Republican Study Committee members want $931 billion because that number represents the 2012 Ryan budget number minus the $97 billion in automatic cuts triggered by the failure of the debt supercommittee last year. President Obama’s budget assumes this cut is replaced by tax increases and entitlement cuts.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who is leading the fight to cut mandatory spending rather than bring the appropriations level below $1.047 trillion, said he did not know when the conflict would be resolved.

Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said no areas of the budget have been resolved, including how to deal with Medicare and Social Security.

One possibility being floated is whether to include reconciliation instructions in the resolution that outline a way to replace the $97 billion in automatic discretionary budget cuts. Those instructions could be taken up as a fast-track legislative vehicle in a lame-duck session when the automatic cuts loom before Congress. 

Reconciliation measures can be taken up in the Senate, and are immune from filibusters.
 
When asked if the budget would use the reconciliation process to address Medicare, Ryan simply said, “You’ll see when we release our budget.”

Democrats argue that cutting deeper than August debt deal would call into the question the trustworthiness of the GOP on budget deals.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of leadership who chaired the failed debt supercommittee, said the GOP is "playing with fire."

“If House Republicans walk away from the agreement their own Speaker made less than a year ago then they will show that a deal with them isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Republicans are playing with fire here and I urge them to not cave to their most conservative members and to stick to the budget levels we already agreed to last year," she said.