House Republican leaders are pitching a new budget plan, but conservatives still aren’t biting.
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) on Thursday presented his colleagues with a two-step plan in hopes of convincing conservatives to back a bipartisan spending agreement struck last year that leaders hoped would lead to a drama free budget process this year.
But conservatives dismissed the latest proposal and said before they support higher funding levels they want House rules changed to give rank-and-file members greater influence over spending cuts in all areas of government — a request that could kill any remaining hope that the House could adopt a budget this year.
Republican leaders in both chambers have made passing the 12 annual appropriations bills individually a top goal for the year, arguing it will show the party’s ability to govern after years of contentious year-end budget deals that have been roundly criticized. Key to this goal is keeping in place the deal that provides $30 billion in extra funding, without which the spending bills will likely be blocked by Senate Democrats.
House leaders have been trying for weeks to find a way to ease conservatives’ concerns about the added spending by presenting different proposals for cutting funds in parts of the budget not covered by the appropriations legislation.
The latest proposal unveiled Thursday would allow members to vote on a stand alone measure that would cut $30 billion from mandatory spending programs like food stamps, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid before moving on to a separate vote on a budget that maintains the 2015 deal to increase overall spending to $1.07 trillion for the annual appropriations bills.
Leaders hoped the two-step process would give conservatives some space to back down from threats to block the critical spending outline, but the proposal was met with a new set of difficult demands.
Conservatives and members of the hard line House Freedom Caucus said Price took a step in the right direction by offering an attempt offset the spending increases, but they want more than just a show vote on legislation that has no future in the Senate where Democrats will likely filibuster any spending cuts.
“It’s basically the baseline budget with a sidecar,” said Freedom Caucus member Rep. John Flemming (R-La.).
Instead they are calling for long-shot changes to House rules that would likely fail if put to a vote on the House floor with Democrats and many moderates voting against the changes. Several members said the requests laid out by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) would allow the House to make changes to mandatory programs, like Social Security and Medicare, through the annual appropriations process. He also suggested creating a rule that the House cannot increase mandatory spending without a special vote on the House floor and separate rule to prevent the Appropriations Committee from funding any program that has not been fully authorized through legislation that governs federal programs.
Several conservative members, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores (R-Texas), said those changes could save as much as $300 billion a year.
“It forces the authorizers to go work and it gets the appropriators to stop blanket funding things,” Flores said.
Many more moderate members, including House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), have already ruled out tying the appropriations process to mandatory spending cuts. Rogers said last week that he would be fine cutting that spending but it would have to be handled as a stand-alone measure.
“I don’t think it would be wise to combine those bills with appropriations bills,” Rogers said.
Several GOP aides dismissed talk of changing House rules as unrealistic, but conservatives have insisted that their request is a reasonable way to give Republicans more negotiating power in spending talks.
“The House has two choices when it comes to the appropriations process,” said Freedom Caucus member Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who is against the $30 billion in additional spending. “We either have to pass a bill that is entirely acceptable to the Democrats and therefore enrage our Republican base or allow the Democrats shut the government down and Republicans take the blame for it.”
Members said the talks would continue and refused to call the negotiations dead.
“It’s not over until its over,” Franks said.