GOP grapples with budget decision

House Republicans on Friday debated what their election-year budget should look like but punted any decision until after the weeklong Presidents Day recess.

At the heart of the discussion was whether to stick to higher spending levels negotiated last fall by President Obama, then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Capitol Hill leaders or return to lower figures from the 2011 sequester.

{mosads}In a 20-minute presentation full of charts and graphs, new Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) laid out three main options on the budget: Pass a budget keeping with the Obama-Boehner numbers and begin the appropriations process; pass a budget that returns to sequester levels, a path that would result in another stopgap funding measure or omnibus; or return to sequester levels but increase defense spending.

Republicans don’t have to pass a budget and spending bills this year, Ryan argued. The two-year, Boehner-Obama deal means they’re not facing a fiscal cliff this year.

“It would be a shame, but the sky won’t fall if we don’t do a budget,” Ryan, a former Budget Committee chairman, said during the closed-door meeting.

Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said he still hopes to mark up a budget by the end of the month. But delaying a spending plan beyond that would provoke anxiety among the GOP’s budget-writers who already see a tough stretch ahead writing the year’s spending bills by deadline.

Both Ryan and McConnell have vowed to complete all 12 annual spending bills for the first time since 1994, allowing the party to paint a contrast with Democrats ahead of the fall elections.

Some Republicans who attended the meeting said it could be as long as three weeks before a budget is rolled out. But others want to see things move forward more quickly.

“We’re having discussions right now, but when we come back we’ve got to get off the pot,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), who serves on the vote-counting GOP whip team.

During his presentation, Ryan posted a graph showing that, under the Obama-Boehner deal, spending levels next fiscal year will be $1.070 trillion — just $3 billion more than this year. Nearly all of that increase is allocated for defense spending.

Non-defense spending will be increased just $40 million in the next fiscal year, a drop in the bucket.

Ryan asked his GOP colleagues: Is $40 million really worth giving up a budget, an appropriations process and other things they got in last fall’s deal, including entitlement reform and reconciliation?

The Speaker received applause at the end of his presentation. Aides stressed this was just the first of several budget meetings and that discussions will go on.

This story was updated at 11:36 a.m.

Tags Boehner John Boehner Paul Ryan Roger Williams
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