Congressional leaders thought last year’s two-year spending deal would pave the way for a simple budget season ahead of the election in November.
They were wrong.
The same group of conservatives that drove former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to resign amid a government spending fight last year are now threatening to rebel against the upcoming House Republican budget over $30 billion in spending that Boehner helped secure. They want current Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) to back out of the last year’s bipartisan agreement and reset spending targets at a lower level despite Ryan’s recent pleas for a more united party.
“We’re troubled by the number… and we’re trying work with members and leadership and see where we go,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Monday that he expects the budget will respect the spending agreement and include the $30 billion in additional spending for fiscal 2017 divided equally between defense and domestic programs.
Conservatives never liked the deal that Boehner brokered after he announced his resignation. The majority of conservatives voted against the agreement and the omnibus spending deal that passed in December, but they did not actively work to bring it down.
Members said they saw the spending deal as a holdover from the Boehner-era and didn’t blame Ryan for following through on promises that were made before he took the speaker’s gavel.
That understanding may not apply to the second half of the two-year agreement. Members of the House Freedom Caucus are warning that it’s time to rethink that deal with the deficit projected to increase this year by $105 billion to $544 billion, according to a recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, due to the spending and tax break deal enacted in December
They’re calling on Ryan and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) to either return to the budget numbers that were in place before the Boehner deal or come up with some way to offset the spending increases.
“We have to do a budget that addresses the situation we’re in and one that addresses where the American people want us to move,” Jordan said.
Ryan tried to downplay the severity of the disagreement during a news conference Thursday.
“This is no different than any other year,” Ryan said, adding that one change is his request for Price to start the budget process a few weeks earlier than normal.
“We always have these family conversations about what our budget should look like and how it should be rolled out and what its contents are,” Ryan said, invoking a phrase Boehner used in January of last year to describe party infighting and chaos spurred by a group of rogue conservatives who moved to unseat him during the normally perfunctory speaker’s election on the House floor.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who led the effort to get rid of Boehner, and many of his fellow conservatives circulated on the House floor this week talking to other Republicans to gauge their support for the upcoming budget. He said there is no formal strategy yet for trying to defeat the eventual fiscal blueprint, instead members are talking leadership and the Budget Committee to find a way to cut spending elsewhere.
“We basically are trying to find a way to define meaningful actions that we can have put in place to deal with the budgetary number,” Meadows said. “I will say that with that none have seen a path to victory on what that would look like or what the components would be.”
The budget bickering continued all week despite Ryan’s pleas for greater unity within the party. He called on Republicans to “unite the clans” in a Wednesday speech at the Heritage Action Summit.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores (R-Texas) said Thursday that most conservatives like the idea of Republicans uniting but they want to be uniting to attack Democrats, not pass budget agreements they don’t support.
“To me we’ll have to work together to deal with [the budget], again recognizing that the people that are in the way of economic progress for families that have been hurt under Obama are the liberals, not us,” Flores said.
Republicans will have to come up with some agreement on the spending target quickly if they hope to stick to Ryan’s target of voting on a budget resolution by the first week of March. The budget has to be approved before the Appropriations Committee can begin drafting spending bills for the year to come.
Conservatives have also demanded that they get a chance to vote on all 12 regular appropriations bills and offer amendments. They say regular order is the only way for every member to influence the spending process.
Ryan promised to respect that request but many hardliners are skeptical.
“Until they actually bring the bills out it’s hard to say ‘I trust you,’” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas).