Divided GOP to powwow on budget

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanDole: Gingrich should be Trump's running mate In House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker MORE is expected to use charts and graphs in his pitch to House Republicans on Friday morning. But his message will be simple: There will be severe consequences if we don’t pass a budget this year.

That scenario is a real possibility as the Wisconsin Republican struggles to unite the warring factions of his 246-member GOP conference.

ADVERTISEMENT
Conservatives are revolting against higher top-line spending levels negotiated last fall by President Obama and Ryan’s predecessor, then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ohio). GOP centrists are digging in on the other side, pledging to kill any budget that deviates from the two-year, bipartisan budget deal.

Ryan has been listening to all sides and hopes his party can work out its differences internally, insisting he’s not the “micromanager” or “dictator” of the House. But the former Budget Committee chairman still believes sticking with the current figures gives the House the best chance to return to regular order and a more traditional appropriations process.

That would put the power of the purse back in the hands of Congress, he’s argued, so lawmakers can hold the Obama administration accountable.

“I was the chair of the Budget Committee. I feel very strongly about budgeting,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. “I feel very strongly about getting a real, working appropriations process so that that we can reclaim the power of the purse.”

When Ryan huddles with fellow House Republicans in the Capitol’s basement Friday, he’ll lay out several options on the budget. But none of them are perfect:

Lower budget numbers to appease fiscal conservatives

The far-right House Freedom Caucus gave migraines last year to BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE, ultimately pressuring him to resign and blocking Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from succeeding him.

Now, the nearly 40-member bloc of conservative hard-liners is causing headaches for Ryan.

In group meetings and one-on-one conversations, Freedom Caucus lawmakers have been pressing the new Speaker to abandon the higher Obama-Boehner spending levels and return to lower numbers from the 2011 sequester.

“I am not one of those people who will be constrained by the number from last year. There are a growing amount of people will not do that,” said a defiant Rep. Paul GosarPaul GosarOvernight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns House panel approves Puerto Rico debt relief Overnight Defense: Dem opposition mounts to defense policy bill MORE (R-Ariz.), a Freedom member who recently told constituents back home that Ryan “folded like a cheap suit” when he voted for the catch-all omnibus spending bill last December.

There’s even chatter that Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) might not be able to get a budget out of his committee given that it’s stacked with six Freedom Caucus members: Reps. Dave Brat, (R-Va.), Scott GarrettScott GarrettDivided GOP to powwow on budget Overnight Campaign: Paul mounts attempt to make main debate stage Republican: ObamaCare helped 'one or two people' nationally MORE (N.J.), Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), Rod Blum (Iowa), Alex Mooney (W.Va.) and Gary Palmer (R-Ala.).

“It may be a heavier lift in committee than getting it off the floor,” quipped one leadership source.

But if Ryan, Price and other GOP leaders agreed to go back to the lower sequester levels, they’ll risk a separate revolt from centrists in their party. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group, said he and other Republicans are prepared to vote down any GOP budget resolution that scraps the Boehner-Obama deal.

Plus, any House-passed spending bills that violate last fall’s bipartisan deal would be a nonstarter with the Senate, where Democrats wield the filibuster.

“It is disingenuous for some on the one hand to say they want regular order and a functioning appropriations process and on the other hand advocate a tactic to lower the [top-line] spending level,” said Dent, one of only 79 House Republicans who voted for the Boehner-Obama deal.

“That will blow up the appropriations process before it begins.” 

Scrap the budget process

Despite tempered optimism from GOP leaders, skeptics in the party say they see no path to 218 — the magic number of Republicans needed to pass a budget if all members are voting.

That could lead to yet another short-term stopgap measure or continuing resolution (CR) at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 — exactly the type of crisis-to-crisis governing that Ryan despises.

“I’ve been here for five years, and there is a certain cynicism you get when you’ve been here awhile and have seen these scenarios play out before,” conservative Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashLibertarian looks for anti-Trump bump The Hill's 12:30 Report Ten third-party candidate names at top of Never Trump’s list MORE (R-Mich.) told The Hill.

He said he hopes there won’t be another CR right before the 2016 general election, “but that is what this congressional experience has trained me to believe will happen.”

As a last resort, Republicans could skip the process of writing a budget blueprint altogether, moving right into annual spending bills.

“I think that is the only way forward,” said Rep. Matt SalmonMatt SalmonLGBT fight dooms spending bill on House floor A hearing brought to tears over Right to Try legislation Time for national Right to Try legislation MORE (R-Ariz.), a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus. “I don’t think that leadership is willing to negotiate with us on the numbers, and we’re not willing to vote for the current numbers.”

The rare move of not passing a budget resolution — and instead passing an enforcement resolution as part of a wonky process called “deeming the numbers” — could avoid a fight over the top-line figures. But it could also deprive the GOP of the chance to outline its fiscal roadmap in a key election year.

The idea received public backing this week from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who knows that tossing out the fragile, bipartisan Obama-Boehner deal could derail the entire appropriations process.

Rogers and other long-time appropriators are eager to begin drafting the dozen appropriations bills that GOP leaders have vowed to pass for the first time since 1994. Rogers said earlier this week he would abide by those spending caps.

But several other Republicans said skipping a budget blueprint would be at odds with the “regular order” that both Ryan and McConnell have pledged in 2016.

“I would rather stick with regular order,” said Rep. Bill FloresBill FloresIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable Ryan secures big win with bipartisan Puerto Rico deal Overnight Finance: GOP's budget 'SWAT' team | What to watch at IRS impeachment hearing | Sanders bucks Dem leaders on Puerto Rico bill MORE (R-Texas), who leads the 170-member conservative Republican Study Committee.

Flores acknowledged it would be tough to unite House Republicans around the Obama-Boehner deal and said his committee is currently eyeing spending levels “just a little bit” below that deal.

“We have a variety of issues and regular order will help us get there,” he said.

Moving forward with a budget proposal — with only the top-line figure — would also require support from Democrats.

When asked on Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would not say whether she would back the move, which was last used by the House under her leadership in 2010.

Instead, she mocked Republicans for a potential reverse of their promise to pass a budget.

“Are you suggesting that the Republicans, who always said you have to have a budget — criticized us for not having a budget — are not going to have a budget?” Pelosi said, feigning shock.

Preserve Obama-Boehner levels, but seek savings elsewhere

There’s some hope that conservatives will support higher spending caps if the GOP can show how it would reduce spending elsewhere.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the House Budget Committee, said he would vote yes on the budget as long as he can go on the record about how to offset that extra $30 billion in spending.

He said GOP leadership should put together a major cost-cutting package, including Ryan’s proposals to reform taxes and replace ObamaCare, which could get a vote in both the House and Senate.

“If it promises in writing, that’ll get me to a yes real quick,” he said. “Then I can go back to my constituents, we can all go back to our constituents, and say, 'Look we have a deal that’s going to save the economy, make it right for the next generation,' with a straight face.”

While a GOP budget with billions of dollars in new spending could be a problem in an election year, some conservatives say they are more concerned about not passing one.  

Veteran budget-writers say it would be a mistake for the GOP to boycott the budget process and give up their chance to lay out reforms for some of the fastest-growing programs, like Medicare and Social Security.

“I think it would be a step backwards not to actually complete a budget,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who oversees the health and human services budget of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I would much prefer we work through our differences and settle on a budget. The budget is always the Perils of Pauline, but in the end, it usually works out okay,” he said.

Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.