Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) the heads of their party’s budget committee contingent in their respective bodies held a press call this afternoon to provide reaction to the president’s budget. “Disappointing” was the word they repeatedly used to refer to the president’s effort. Ryan began: “I’m very disappointed with the president’s budget. It’s basically a status quo budget.” He corrected himself a few moments later: “It’s worse than a status quo budget.” When Sessions joined the call he described the budget as, you guessed it, disappointing. What was Ryan’s reaction to the White House’s effort to redo the estate tax agreement just reached in January? Yup — “Disappointing.”
I’m sure neither of these sophisticated lawmakers were surprised that the president sent up a budget which (after removing gimmicks like $675 billion in “war savings,” which aides explained) reduces only $119 billion over ten years. Even worse, they explained, is that the reductions don’t start until 2020, four years after President Obama leaves office. I don’t think they were ambushed by $1.1 trillion in taxes (aides explained some of it was hidden in the spending category). They were however clearly annoyed and frustrated. Here they are churning out budgets which really aim to reform the driver of entitlements and Obama sends up a document which allows the debt to increase to $25 trillion. Ryan said that about the only good thing was that at least everybody put a plan on the table they can debate. He suggested a conference report would be the next step. (“Ultimately I think that’s the way to go.”)
As for the inclusion of chained CPI and Medicare means testing, Ryan was grudgingly positive. On CPI, he said, “He clarified a statistic but it’s not fundamental reform.” On means testing Medicare he conceded in response to a reporter’s question, “That’s the one thing where we will have overlap.” When told presidential adviser Gene Sperling said this was not an a la carte offering, Ryan shot back, “A take-it-or-leave-it approach is disappointing.” (There’s another one!) He added that this is why they haven’t gotten anywhere with the president.
Ryan did make some news in saying we should stop talking about a “grand bargain.” He said, “My goal is to find agreement where we can to get to a down payment on the [debt] problem.” That suggests minor fiddling (e.g. chained CPI for getting rid of some tax loophole), but not much more. That there is remote chance for a grand bargain should not come as a surprise considering, as Ryan put it, “We [R’s and D’s] are so far from that.” A “down payment” would presumably be just a tick better than another continuing resolution.
Given how much time the president is devoting to other matters (e.g. anti-gun legislation), I tend to think the White House agrees.