Some Republicans are now suggesting one way to avoid a messy intra-party fight is to skip drafting a broad budget framework and jump directly to writing the annual spending bills based on last year’s funding agreement.
“Yes, I think so,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Wednesday when asked if he would support this plan.
While jumping straight to the annual spending bills would be expedient, it could risk enraging conservatives who have insisted that the House adopt a budget that reflects conservative principles on taxes and spending. Members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus have said they want the House to go through the entire process of writing a budget and then passing spending bills that adhere to that blueprint.
“Let’s write a Republican budget, a budget that actually lowers spending,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in an interview. “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
Further complicating the political calculus for House GOP leaders is that moving directly to the spending bills would likely require the support of Democrats if enough conservatives balk at the plan. House Democrats support the funding agreement reached last year and would likely vote for it as a separate measure in the coming weeks outside of the annual budget resolution, which is usually a partisan document. That, however, would open Ryan (R-Wis.) to the same criticisms that dogged his predecessor, John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who was accused by conservatives of ignoring their concerns.
Ryan said Wednesday that members continue to discuss the best way forward, while expressing optimism that his conference could coalesce around a plan. He noted that it’s important to get to work quickly because Congress has a shortened calendar this year due to the election and the political conventions being held this summer.
“We want to get ahead of schedule because of the calendar and we’re losing precious weeks in July,” Ryan said at a news conference following a weekly House GOP meeting. ”I’m confident we’ll get this figured out.”
The speaker has been joining budget meetings held by Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) this week and he will hold a policy planning meeting with all members on Friday morning.
The tensions among Republicans highlight questions about the political value of adopting a budget resolution, which does not become law but serves as a fiscal blueprint that lays out the majority party’s tax and spending priorities. While producing this proposal would allow House Republicans to promote their agenda, its practical impact is limited. The resolution does set the cap for the spending bills, but this can be done through separate legislation as well.
Rogers argued that last year’s agreement established this year’s spending cap and there is no reason to revisit the deal now through a messy fight over the budget resolution.
“The budget agreement of last year gives us a top number and until I’m told otherwise by an act of the House or whatever, that is the number we will have to mark up to,” Rogers said.
Ryan said Wednesday that he agrees with Rogers that the agreement should be honored.
“We believe that to have a good working, viable appropriations process we’re going to appropriate to these numbers because we have agreement on these numbers,” Ryan said. “It is very important.”
Ryan has repeatedly promised that members will have a chance to weigh in and influence the budget and spending process through regular order this year and conservatives say skipping the formal budget resolution would violate that pledge.
Rogers doesn’t agree.
“Well, what’s regular order?” Rogers asked. “It is in the eye of the beholder. I’m just anxious to get going on marking up these bills because the year is so short and truncated.”
A spokesman for House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) acknowledged the short time frame but did not comment on the possibility of skipping the formal budget process.
“Chairman Price appreciates the constraints of the calendar which is why the Budget Committee will be introducing a budget far earlier than in years past – one that gives Congress the means to achieve substantial deficit reduction and reforms to the two-thirds of our nation’s budget not touched by annual appropriations,” said Price spokesman Ryan Murphy.
Hard-line conservatives aren’t the only Republicans looking to modify last year’s budget agreement, which locked in equal spending increases for both military and domestic programs. Many defense hawks want to scale back the domestic side of the ledger to boost military funds to help fight the Islamic State.
Ryan declined to weigh in on any specific changes members may want to see, saying he will leave it to the committee chairman to work out individual differences with the reminder that not everyone is going to be happy.
“There are a lot of different concerns,” Ryan said. “Most concerns can be accommodated within our budget and not everybody gets what they want simply because Barack Obama is president.”