Dems ready to attack if GOP skips budget

Dems ready to attack if GOP skips budget
© Greg Nash

House Democrats are set to pounce if GOP leaders decide to skip a budget this year. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanAs Congress adjusts to Trump, Iran put under the pressure it deserves The Hill's 12:30 Report Biz groups push for regulatory reform in new Congress MORE (R-Wis.) took the gavel last fall with vows to return to a system of "regular order" that would include passage of a budget resolution and the 12 underlying spending bills. 

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But pressure from conservatives for steeper cuts has divided the party, and Ryan is now floating the notion of scrapping a new budget and adopting the spending caps set by last year's fiscal deal between President Obama and former Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan delays committee assignments until 2017 Lobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run MORE (R-Ohio). 

The potential flip has not been overlooked by Democrats, who are already lobbing accusations that the Republicans are simply too fractured to fulfill their promises and govern the country effectively.   

“Speaker Ryan took over the dysfunctional House Republican caucus and insisted that he would return the budget process to regular order, because even he knows that voters are tired of House Republicans’ inability to do their job," Meredith Kelly, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Thursday in an email. 

"Now, Ryan’s honeymoon is over and he’s backtracking on his repeated budget pledges after pressure from the same conservatives that ousted Speaker BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan delays committee assignments until 2017 Lobbying World 'Ready for Michelle' PACs urge 2020 run MORE."

The office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) delivered a similar shot, sending an email Thursday that accused Ryan of "budget hypocrisy." 

"Speaker Ryan should heed his own warning: this 'budget collapse' will send a 'clear signal' to American families about House Republican dysfunction," the statement reads. 

Failing to move a budget in his first year as Speaker would be an embarrassment for Ryan, a former Budget Committee chairman who built his reputation as a policy wonk around his annual spending blueprints.

But conservatives in his conference are clamoring to cut tens of billions of dollars from the Obama-Boehner levels — cuts that could never win approval from Obama and Senate Democrats — raising the specter of another government shutdown threat just ahead of November's elections. 

Facing the squeeze, Ryan huddled with his Republican conference last Friday in the Capitol, where he raised the idea of skipping a new budget altogether if Republicans can't unite around a strategy.

“It would be a shame, but the sky won't fall if we don't do a budget,” Ryan said, according to a source in the meeting.

Democratic criticisms of the Republicans' budgets are nothing new. Indeed, Democrats had made it an annual ritual to attack Ryan's budget proposals for their steep cuts to entitlement and domestic programs.

And those attacks are sure to continue this year: The current Budget chairman, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), is vowing to introduce a 2017 resolution that will likely follow a similar model. 

But a failure of the Republicans to approve that budget resolution on the House floor would create a new wrinkle in the debate and open an additional angle of Democratic attack. Not only will the Democrats hammer the policy provisions of the Price bill, but they'll also launch charges that Republicans are too inept to hold power just as Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate Dems may block water bill over drought language The Hill's 12:30 Report McConnell: Spending bill will include miners' pension fix MORE (R-Ky.) are trying to demonstrate the opposite.

"The American people are just as fed up with the Republican majority's dysfunction as they are with their assault on programs to make college more affordable, their plans to shred the social safety net, and their effort to turn Medicare into a voucher program," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said Thursday.

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), head of the Democrats' messaging arm, echoed that message. 

“If the choice is between a bad Republican budget that hurts everyday Americans and no Republican budget, either one is a failure," Israel said Thursday in an email, "and House Democrats will hold them accountable.”