By Sarah Ferris - 02/12/16 02:39 PM EST
Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanApple's Tim Cook to hold fundraiser for Clinton Reid: Congress should return 'immediately' to fight Zika Classified briefings to begin for Clinton, Trump MORE (R-Wis.) on Friday raised the possibility that House Republicans could decide not to lay out a budget blueprint this year if the party cannot unite behind a proposal.
Ryan told members at a closed-door conference meeting that they could skip the budget process altogether, even as he strongly signaled that it would be the wrong move.
He noted that Congress is not “staring down a cliff” that would force them into a final vote this year because of the two-year deal struck last fall between his predecessor, then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerDem drops out of race for Boehner's old seat Conservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ohio), and the White House.
The remarks represent the first time that Ryan has suggested even the possibility of not putting out a budget, something Republicans have assailed Democrats for in the past.
It would be a surprising move from the former Budget Committee chairman, who has vowed to break Congress’s crisis-driven cycle of passing spending bills.
Some Republicans say it’s a sign that the Speaker is taking a more cautious approach than his predecessor.
“I think he is lowering expectations,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who leads a House Appropriations Committee. “I think that’s been one of the hallmarks of his very young speakership, is to try and be realistic ... and not promise more than you can possibly deliver.”
Both Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPeter Thiel does not make the GOP pro-gay Reid: Trump is a 'hateful con man' McAuliffe: Clinton won't move TPP without changes MORE (R-Ky.) have vowed to complete all 12 annual government funding bills for the first time since 1994, allowing the party to paint a contrast with Democrats ahead of the fall elections.
House Republicans have already agreed to spending caps of $1.1 trillion as part of last year’s Obama-BoehnerJohn BoehnerDem drops out of race for Boehner's old seat Conservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE deal. But some conservatives, like those in the House Freedom Caucus, are applying new pressure to Ryan to rewrite the deal.
Ryan in the meeting Friday presented three options for a budget, with each one requiring that the House GOP conference agree to a specific dollar amount.
He said the House could vote to lower spending levels and scrap last year’s agreement with the White House; decide to stick by last year’s spending caps, which would fall in line with the sequester cuts; or agree to a slightly higher budget number that would increase defense spending.
But the Speaker painted a grim picture of the likely outcome from the third choice: another short-term spending bill.
“The result — without question — will be that, once again, the Senate blocks all spending bills, and it ends up with a [continuing resolution] or another omni,” he said. “That would be repeating exactly what happened last year.”
Ryan told his members that the best option is passing a budget agreement that respects the Obama-Boehner agreement, while allowing the party to “get to work” on the 12 spending bills through the appropriations process.
Even if they do pass a budget, however, Ryan said he couldn’t promise that all 12 bills would make it through.
So far, conservatives have been holding their fire on Ryan, with many saying they appreciate his inclusive approach.
“We’re used to being told what the right answer is,” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, said after the meeting on Friday.
“He made a lot of good logical points in there,” added Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.). “We’re having these discussions now, last year we weren’t having those discussions. Decisions were made differently than they are now.”