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Budget debate puts GOP credibility on the line

Budget debate puts GOP credibility on the line

Republicans have staked their control of Congress on demonstrating an ability to govern, and they will face a major test in the next three weeks as they try to pass a joint budget resolution for the first time since 2005.
 
Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez What's a party caucus chair worth? Biden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty MORE (R-Ohio) will square off next week with conservatives in his caucus who are accusing him of breaking House rules to secure the votes of defense-minded Republicans.
 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWashington showing signs of normalcy after year of restrictions Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Lawmakers reach agreement on bipartisan Jan. 6 commission MORE (R-Ky.) has a thin margin to work with in the Senate, where he can only afford to lose three votes and still pass a budget, something Republicans pledged to accomplish during the last election cycle.
 
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWill the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Republicans have dumped Reagan for Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE (R-Ariz.) vowed to vote against the measure, unless the Senate agreed to follow the House and use an emergency war fund to boost the defense numbers. He is now likely to support it after the Budget Committee on Thursday adopted an amendment to allow the Overseas Continuing Operations (OCO) fund to spare the Pentagon from cuts.
 
But this could cost conservative votes.
 
Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFormer OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Seth Rogen says he's not in a feud with 'fascist' Ted Cruz, whose 'words caused people to die' GOP votes to replace Cheney with Stefanik after backing from Trump MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Energy: Colonial Pipeline says it has restored full service | Biden urges people not to panic about gasoline shortages | EPA rescinds Trump-era cost-benefit rule Senate panel advances Biden's deputy Interior pick Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech MORE (R-Utah), two conservatives who have clashed often with McConnell, declined to say last week whether they would support it.
 
The stakes are high as failure or a major delay would imperil one of the GOP’s top legislative priorities: repealing ObamaCare.
 
Republicans want to send a package to Obama’s desk that repeals the law and offers millions of Americans a way to transition away from its insurance subsidies.  
 
The easiest way to do this is to merge the House and Senate budgets into a joint resolution that would provide special procedural protection to an ObamaCare repeal package planned for later in the year. Under so-called reconciliation protection, it could pass the Senate with only 51 votes, eliminating the need for Democratic support.
 
“If we can’t get to a reconciliation [package] then it’s a huge setback. I think reconciliation and being able to get something on the president’s desk, a policy issue we care deeply about, that we want to be able to show the American public where the clear differences lie,” said Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonCOVID-19's class divide creates new political risks Arizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate MORE (R-Ariz.).
 
Failure would prove a major embarrassment politically, given that Republicans bashed Democrats repeatedly in recent years for seldom passing budgets during President Obama’s tenure.
 
But passing the budget through the House next week will be a heavy lift, as GOP conservatives are threatening to derail it because leaders plan to increase military spending above the caps set by the 2011 budget control act.

Leaders want to strip language offsetting $20 billion worth of higher spending so that it can get pro-defense colleagues to vote for it but they will take the unusual tact of modifying the bill with the procedural rule governing its floor consideration. House GOP leadership is taking the alternative procedural route because they could not cobble together the votes to do so in the Budget Committee.

“It’s a complete disaster. The process has completely broken down,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), an outspoken conservative. “I’m very disappointed that we’re making a major substantive change to the budget at the rules committee. It’s not regular order.”

The gambit is needed, however, to bring along 70 lawmakers who sent a letter to BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez What's a party caucus chair worth? Biden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty MORE late last month vowing to oppose any budget resolution that failed to fund defense at or above the $561 billion requested by Obama.
 
As tough as next week’s House vote will be, lawmakers predict it will be even tougher passing the joint resolution that results from conference negotiations between Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Lummis adopts 'laser eyes' meme touting Bitcoin MORE (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Okla.), the Senate and House budget committee chairmen.
 
"The challenging vote will not be the first vote. It will be on the compromise budget with the Senate, whatever that is," said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).
 
"We spend a lot of time around here spending political capital on the first vote. At the end of the day, it's not the first vote that going to count. It's the last one," he added.
 
While both chambers appear to be on the same page with regard to raising defense spending, entitlement reform has emerged as a major sticking point.
 
Following in the footsteps of former House Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only MORE (R-Wis.), Price has included detailed proposals to reform Medicare and Medicaid in his budget.
 
Enzi has offered a deficit-reduction goal for those programs but his budget is mum on how to achieve those savings, angering House conservatives.
 
“They’re talking about Medicare savings but there’s no language for how you get there,” Salmon said of the Senate budget. “In the House budget, we’re pretty specific how we get there and the Senate isn’t and we don’t think that’s responsible.”
 
Senate Republicans, however, are leery to vote for any specific reforms that Democrats can use as political ammo in the 2016 election, when they need to defend 24 seats. Democrats regularly slammed the GOP in 2012 and 2014 for supporting Ryan’s entitlement-program reforms.
 
"I think they're overly skittish about this stuff. I've seen some things that some of them say about the Ryan entitlement proposals," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), one of Boehner’s allies.
 
Enzi and Price plan to merge the two budgets by April 15, giving themselves a short window to resolve their significant differences.
 
“That’s the law. There’s no penalty for not making that time except that the appropriators can’t have the numbers so they can get started,” Enzi said of the deadline.
 
Enzi declined to predict whether he would have enough votes to pass the budget next week but added GOP unity during the budget panel’s markup Thursday was an encouraging sign.
 
“I never count my votes until they’re voted. We got it through committee in pretty short order. Everybody was civil, that’s always nice,” he said.
 
A senior Republican aide said the budget debate would probably be less controversial than past years because it does not include any major tax hikes or cuts as budget blueprints of past years.
 
“It didn’t have the passion of a usual budget markup,” the aide said of the committee’s action Thursday. “The members of the committee represent a range of the conference so the markup is usually a pretty good test.”