The House Budget Committee has 38 members. Twenty-two of them are Republicans, Sixteen on them are Democrats. The committee is chaired by Paul Ryan, the conservative heartthrob whose budgets have, over the last few years, come to define the modern Republican Party.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., center, holds up a copy of his budget plan, entitled "The Path to Prosperity," March 20, during a news conference. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

And the dissidents have powerful supporters. The Club for Growth came out in opposition to Ryan's plan. "On balance, the Ryan Budget is a disappointment for fiscal conservatives," they said in a statement.

The conservative skeptics all voice the same problem with the Ryan budget: It does not go far enough, fast enough. The budget doesn't balance till 2040. The spending levels envisioned in this year's budget are slightly higher than the spending levels envisioned in last year's budget. The Medicare reforms have been moderated to preserve fee-for-service Medicare as an option, and Social Security remains untouched. (The Club for Growth, notably, also dings the budget for ducking the sequester. “By waiving the automatic spending cuts required under the Budget Control Act, this budget is asking Americans to trust future Congresses to do the hard work later," scolds the organization.)

Which is, on the whole, an astounding criticism of Ryan's budget. Whether you love it or loathe it, you should be able to recognize its extraordinary ambition. As Bob Greenstein, director of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote, "the new Ryan budget is a remarkable document — one that, for most of the past half-century, would have been outside the bounds of mainstream discussion due to its extreme nature." There's simply no doubt that that's true. In one document, the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Medicare is substantially privatized, Medicaid is turned over to the states, the tax code is flattened into two brackets, and, judging from the projected spending levels, the federal government's role in infrastructure, worker retraining, education, nutrition support, veteran's benefits, and much more dwindles to nearly nothing.

Of course, one could argue that, for most of the past half-century, many of today's conservatives would be outside the bounds of mainstream discussion, too.

Top stories

1) Due to conservative dissension, Ryan's budget only passed the House Budget Committee by one vote. "The House Budget Committee approved Chairman Paul Ryan's 2013 budget resolution on Wednesday night by a close vote of 19 to 18. Two conservative Republicans voted against the Ryan plan, which cuts spending by $5.3 trillion over ten years, because it did not cut the budget fast enough. Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) voted no. The tight vote indicates that next week House GOP leaders could face a larger floor defection than they did on last year's budget, which got every Republican but four behind it. GOP leaders say they are confident the measure will pass even though they can count on no Democratic votes. Panel conservatives had wanted the bring discretionary spending down to $931 billion next year as part of a plan to balance the budget within a decade. The Ryan plan contains a compromise spending level $97 billion higher and it does not balance until nearly 2040." Erik Wasson in The Hill.

@chucktodd: Wow, so Club for Growth comes out against Ryan's budget. Club playing games? Hoping this "mainstreams" Ryan's budget?

2) We may be headed towards a government shutdown weeks before the election. "A fracturing agreement between the White House and congressional Republicans over spending levels has heightened the chance of a government shutdown just weeks before the November election. Leaders in both parties wanted to avoid a high-stakes spending clash before the presidential and congressional elections, when Washington often becomes paralyzed by partisanship. A budget agreement signed into law last August was supposed to help avoid such a showdown, but now it seems possible. The flashpoint came this week when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) called for $1.028 trillion in discretionary spending for the year beginning Oct. 1--$19 billion less than the level agreed to with the White House last year and put into law. Discretionary spending requires annual approval by Congress and excludes formula-based programs like Medicare and Social Security." Damian Paletta and Naftali Bendavid in The Wall Street Journal.

3) Obama will speed up approval of the southern part of Keystone XL. "President Barack Obama will use Thursday's visit to Oklahoma to announce that he's ordered federal agencies to get on the horse to approve the southern part of the Keystone XL pipeline, the White House announced. Obama will issue an executive order on federal permitting of infrastructure projects, 'which will require agencies to make faster permitting and review decisions for vital infrastructure projects while protecting the health and vitality of local communities and the environment,' the White House said. As for the Oklahoma to Gulf Coast part of Keystone, Obama will 'issue a specific memorandum in Cushing directing federal agencies to expedite the Cushing Pipeline,' according to the White House...Zichal also restated the administration's oft-spoken position that Obama will review TransCanada's application and make a determination about whether it's in the national interest once a new route is found in Nebraska." Darren Goode and Dan Berman in Politico.

4) The rich would probably find ways to avoid the 'Buffett Rule.' "Millionaires likely would find legal ways to avoid paying higher taxes under President Barack Obama's proposed 'Buffett Rule,' a new congressional estimate finds. The proposal--spelled out in Mr. Obama's State of the Union address--would impose a 30% minimum tax rate on those who make more than $1 million a year. It is named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who advocates higher taxes on the very wealthy. Taxpayers' likely efforts to sidestep the rule's effects mean it would raise about $47 billion in extra revenue over the next decade, according to a new estimate by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional advisory body that functions as the official scorekeeper for legislation affecting government tax revenue...The committee found many millionaires would find ways to avoid the rule, mostly by cutting back on stock sales and other transactions that produce capital gains. " John McKinnon in The Wall Street Journal.

5) Top policymakers are encouraged by Europe's progress. "For the United States, the looming threat from the long-simmering European sovereign debt crisis seems finally to have started to subside. European leaders did not combat the crisis with the force American policy makers had urged. But a Continent-wide agreement to slash deficits and lifelines tossed to European banks have helped reduce borrowing costs, and Washington now seems to be breathing a tentative sigh of relief. Serious concerns remain about Europe’s impact on financial markets and growth, the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, and the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, said Wednesday in testimony before the House oversight committee. But Europe has made progress in assuring investors of the safety of the euro and ensuring that all euro zone economies retain financing for their debts at sustainable rates." Annie Lowrey in The New York Times.

@TheStalwart: Nothing is more Congress than Congress holding a hearing on risks from the Euro crisis in March 2012.

Top op-eds

1) MILLER: Paul Ryan is no fiscal conservative. "The crucial thing to understand about Ryan is that he is not a fiscal conservative. He’s a small-government conservative. These are very different things. The fastest-growing federal program in Ryan’s new budget is interest on the debt, which nearly triples from $234 billion next year to $614 billion in 2022. He doesn’t even pretend to balance the budget until 2040, and then only under utterly dubious assumptions. These are not the choices a fiscal conservative makes. A fiscal conservative pays for the government he wants. Ryan wants government smaller than the one Reagan led even as America ages, and he doesn’t want to pay for it. Instead he adds trillions in new debt and makes no bones about it...There’s more to say on Ryan’s blueprint...he deserves credit for putting his party’s head in the noose by calling (rightly, if imperfectly) for Medicare reform. But the first order of business is to expose Ryan’s overall plan for the misguided, misleading and unacceptable vision it represents." Matt Miller in The Washington Post.

@ezraklein: Seems an enormous personal risk for Ryan -- at least politically speaking -- would have been a budget that raised taxes to cut the deficit.

2) BALKIN: The Supreme Court is likely to back the Affordable Care Act. "The Court will probably follow its historical tendencies and uphold the Affordable Care Act. But Pollock suggests why it might not. The Pollock decision arose out of a political panic among conservatives that swept up the Court along with it. Inequality of wealth accelerated in the late nineteenth century, and a left-wing version of agrarian populism had become a powerful force in American politics. Conservatives believed the rising Populist Party was a genuine threat; they feared the specter of socialism and redistribution of wealth." Jack Balkin in The Atlantic.

@JeffreyYoung_HC: I wonder if John Roberts and the other SCOTUS justices have headaches from everyone reading their minds so much lately.

3) KLEIN: Ryan's plan could lead to single-payer. "It’s unlikely that the model in the Republican budget will prove sustainable. That legislation would repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut Medicaid by a third and adopt competitive bidding for Medicare. The likely result? The nation’s uninsured population would soar. In the long run...that will increase the pressure for a universal system. Because Republicans don’t really have an idea for creating one, Democrats will step into the void. As a result, Republicans’ long-term interests are probably best served by Democratic success. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed by the next president or rejected by the Supreme Court, Democrats will probably retrench, pursuing a strategy to expand Medicare and Medicaid on the way toward a single-payer system. That approach has, for them, two advantages that will loom quite large after the experience of the Affordable Care Act: It can be passed with 51 votes in the Senate through the budget reconciliation process, and it’s indisputably constitutional." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

4) WILL: Creative destruction is the dividing line of American politics. "Creative destruction continues in the digital age...America now is divided between those who find this social churning unnerving and those who find it exhilarating. What Virginia Postrel postulated in 1998 in 'The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress' -- the best book for rescuing the country from a ruinous itch for tidiness -- is even more true now. Today’s primary political and cultural conflict is, Postrel says, between people, mislabeled 'progressives,' who crave social stasis, and those, paradoxically called conservatives, who welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism...As long as America is itself, it will welcome the messy chaos that is not really disorder but, rather, what Postrel calls 'an order that is unpredictable, spontaneous, and ever shifting, a pattern created by millions of uncoordinated, independent decisions.' Professional coordinators, a.k.a. bureaucracies, are dismayed. Good." George Will in The Washington Post.

5) ALTMAN: It's time for action on inequality. "President Barack Obama has made income inequality the focus of his re-election campaign. The message resonates because the US economy remains weak. The latest data, including on jobs, may look robust, but on closer examination are not. The American economy is growing by about 2 per cent a year, which is quite slow by historical standards of recovery. At this rate, it will take nearly three years before the unemployment rate reaches 5 per cent. It’s worth remembering, though, that rising inequality is not an exclusively American affair. Over the past 25 years, inequality has widened at similar rates to the US in many developed countries. It actually climbed faster since 2000 in supposedly egalitarian countries such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Across countries in the OECD, the income of the richest 10 per cent is nine times greater than that of the poorest 10 per cent. However, that still compares with 14 times more in the US." Roger Altman in The Financial Times.

Canadian pop interlude: Tegan and Sara play "Alligator" live on 89.3 The Current.

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Still to come: The rich would find a way around the 'Buffett Rule'; Komen is still feeling the fallout from the Planned Parenthood controversy; budget limitations put cybersecurity at risk; some say speculators are to blame for rising gas prices; and a cat just wants to hold its doll.


The latest housing data is disappointing. "Sales of previously owned homes in the United States dropped 0.9 percent in February, according to a report released Wednesday, disappointing economists. The number indicates that roughly five years after the housing bubble burst, the real estate market’s road forward remains bumpy. Many economists had thought that with mortgage rates near record lows and the job market improving, existing-home sales would rise. Homes were sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million, compared with 4.63 million in January, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors...Still, sales were 8.8 percent higher than they were a year ago. And the national median home price was $156,000 in February, up 0.3 percent from a year ago. Some economists say those figures point to a stabilizing housing market, especially compared with the steep price drops of last year." Jia Lynn Yang and Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

Student loan debt has passed $1 trillion. "The amount Americans owe on student loans is far higher than earlier estimates and could lead some consumers to postpone buying homes, potentially slowing the housing recovery, U.S. officials said Wednesday. Total student debt outstanding appears to have surpassed $1 trillion late last year, said officials at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created in the wake of the financial crisis. That would be roughly 16% higher than an estimate earlier this year by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The new figure--released Wednesday at a banking conference in Austin, Texas--is a preliminary finding from a study of student debt that the bureau plans to release this summer. Bureau officials said the estimate is based on a survey of private lenders, as opposed to other estimates that rely on a sampling of consumer credit reports." Josh Mitchell and Maya Jackson-Randall in The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. is under pressure on its World Bank pick. "The US is under intense pressure to nominate a top-notch candidate for the World Bank presidency after developing countries put forward two credible contenders of their own. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister, and José Antonio Ocampo, the former finance minister of Colombia, will be nominated as candidates for the presidency before the deadline on Friday...The US will lose legitimacy if it foists a low-calibre leader on the institution when there are well-qualified candidates from developing countries...The US is expected to put forward a candidate before Friday’s deadline. Leading options are Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary who has a heavyweight economic reputation but some opponents in the US and abroad, and Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, has been nominated by some smaller developing countries." Robin Harding and John-Paul Rathbone in The Financial Times.

The startup bill inched forward in the Senate. "The Senate moved forward Wednesday on a popular assortment of bills to roll back regulations targeting small businesses and startups. But Democrats are reviving a push to add more oversight, which they argue is critical to protect investors from fraud. That could complicate the path forward, despite broad overall support among lawmakers and the White House. The JOBS Act cleared a key procedural hurdle on a 76-22 vote. The package -- six bills that would ease various Securities and Exchange Commission rules -- is designed to make it easier for small businesses to raise capital...But perhaps triggering another fight, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after the vote that Democrats were adding two amendments intended to boost protections for investors. Republicans want the House version of the bill without any changes so it can head to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature." Seung Min Kim in Politico.

@seungminkim: McConnell notes that we're in the middle of March Madness. The #JOBSAct, "to use a basketball metaphor, this is a lay-up."

Compilation interlude: Mister Rogers' intros over the years.

Health Care

The Planned Parenthood controversy continues to hurt the Komen foundation. "Fallout from the Planned Parenthood controversy continues at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, with several executives at headquarters and affiliates departing, questions arising about fundraising ability, and structural changes underway to give affiliates more influence, officials said Wednesday. The chief executives of the Greater New York and Oregon affiliates, among the most outspoken in their criticism of Komen’s unsuccessful attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, are leaving. Three officials at the Dallas headquarters have left or announced their resignations, a spokeswoman said. Meanwhile, questions are being raised about the breast cancer charity’s ability to raise money after the public relations fiasco. The New York affiliate postponed two events, including its annual awards gala, 'because we were not certain about our ability to fundraise in the near term,' spokesman Vern Calhoun said Wednesday." Lena Sun and Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

The Supreme Court can't turn back the changes the Affordable Care Act made to the delivery system. "As 'death to Obamacare' gets the headlines and the fate of the nation's uninsured and most vulnerable hangs in the balance, the controversial law has already transformed the health care industry -- and left most health care companies more profitable to boot. Health insurance companies, hospitals and the rest of the health care system already have made deep changes to the way they operate: adding new consumer protections to health plans, altering the way medical providers get paid and beginning to work closer together to improve health and save money. Experts say the push by President Barack Obama's health care reform has created an unstoppable momentum. While the court could very well kill the Act's most ambitious piece --Obama's aim to insure the roughly 30 million Americans who have no health insurance -- but they wouldn't undo health care reform's other goals: modernizing the health care system and extracting more value from the U.S. health care dollar." Jeff Young in the Huffington Post.

Domestic Policy

Budget limitations are putting cybersecurity at risk. "WANTED: cybersecurity experts willing to work for the federal government for less pay and fewer benefits than offered by private companies like Google. That sums up the federal government’s problem in trying to attract and retain a talented workforce to fight cybercrime. Budget limitations have hamstrung the government’s ability to compete with the private sector, which can offer cyber researchers more pay and more opportunities for advancement. And competition is particularly fierce in the U.S., where there is a shortage of students graduating with science, tech, engineering and math degrees...And the problem isn’t just finding skilled employees -- it’s also keeping them around...At Sandia National Laboratories, staffers are being solicited by private companies offering a greater than 50 percent increase in salary and better benefits, Peery said -- and more employees are taking companies up on their offers." Jess Kamen in Politico.

A new Supreme Court ruling expands judges' supervision of the criminal justice system. "Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to effective lawyers during plea negotiations, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a pair of 5-to-4 decisions that vastly expanded judges’ supervision of the criminal justice system. The decisions mean that what used to be informal and unregulated deal making is now subject to new constraints when bad legal advice leads defendants to reject favorable plea offers. 'Criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials,' Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. 'The right to adequate assistance of counsel cannot be defined or enforced without taking account of the central role plea bargaining takes in securing convictions and determining sentences.' Justice Kennedy, who more often joins the court’s conservative wing in ideologically divided cases, was in this case in a coalition with the court’s four more liberal members." Adam Liptak in The New York Times.

Adorable animals being adorable interlude: A cat holds its bunny doll close.


The House will pass a three-month extension of the highway bill. "House Republicans moved to punt consideration of a long-term highway bill until at least this summer, announcing Wednesday that they would seek to approve a three-month extension of current funding next week. The short-term bill would give House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) more time to rally his conference around a five-year, $260 billion measure that would use revenue from new domestic oil-and-gas drilling to pay for highway projects. Conservatives have balked at Boehner’s bill, and he has been unable so far to unite his conference behind an alternative...The short-term measure House GOP leaders said they would move would authorize the collection of the gas tax through June 30. This would be the ninth extension of the last multiyear highway bill, which expired in 2009. The move is the latest in what has become a rollercoaster ride for the House GOP’s measure." Keith Laing in The Hill.

Some in Congress are blaming rising gas prices on speculators. "Joining the escalating debate over rising gasoline prices and a rush by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to assign blame for steeper fuel costs, a handful of Senate Democrats unveiled a bill Wednesday that would limit speculative trading in the oil markets. The bill, written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and five Democrats, would force regulators to pass rules within 14 days to reduce speculative trading in the oil markets. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is in the process of developing such limits, but its rules won't be finalized for several more months...The degree to which speculative trading affects oil prices has been contested. Speaking at the same hearing, other experts said speculators weren't the ones driving up oil prices. Rather, the market was responding to concerns about global supplies and stronger demand. Oil prices now hover at around $107 a barrel." Tennille Tracy in The Wall Street Journal.

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Karl Singer and Michelle Williams.