Under increasing pressure from conservatives, House GOP leaders are poised to lower budget levels below what appropriators have said they need to pass spending bills this year.
At the same time, some of the conservatives demanding deeper spending cuts said they can come around to voting on spending bills if the budget resolution comes out to their liking and the bills conform to their number.
How low conservatives can set the bar remains to be seen, but in closed-door meetings this week, Republican leaders and GOP members of the Budget Committee are working to hash it out.
“We’re continuing to work with our Members on the budget,” Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand from our Members to show the American people a way forward to fiscal sanity … and we’re going to do that.”
Republican Members on both sides of the spending battle said not passing a budget is not an option.
What does seem assured is that leaders are backing away from a budget of
$1.047 trillion, the number they negotiated in July’s Budget Control Act and which members of the Republican Study Committee deemed unacceptable.
When asked where the spending cap will fall, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) said, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
It is unlikely the number will go quite as low as some in the RSC are demanding in their call for a $931 billion budget. But Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a member of the RSC and the Budget Committee, said he wants to go as low as possible.
“You get a number low enough, and you’ll get conservatives voting on it,” the South Carolinian said. “You’ve got groups in the party that want to spend at [$931 billion] and you’ve got groups that want to spend at a higher number. So that’s the art of what we’re trying to do here, is get a number that we can all agree on.”
Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (Va.) office confirmed that he and other leaders are meeting with members of the committee.
Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio) said Tuesday that the compromise could be $950 billion, a number derived by subtracting from the BCA baseline the $97 billion in cuts to nondefense discretionary spending mandated by the sequestration process created in the establishment of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.
But he said that number would decimate nondefense discretionary expenditures, such as the transportation spending he helps control from an Appropriations subcommittee on which he sits.
“The compromise is about $950 billion. That’s about $100 billion less” than the BCA number, LaTourette said. “All the rhetoric is, ‘We’ve got to get it out of the mandatory side,’ but all of the money is coming out of the discretionary side. It won’t survive.”
Mulvaney, though, said he expects some of the sequestration cuts to be rolled back, and he said there is discussion of replacing those mandated cuts with cuts to mandatory spending such as entitlements.
He said the group could consider accepting a compromise that balances the budget more quickly than the current budget in exchange for a higher cap.
What is clear is that leadership must give these Members a reason to vote for the budget.
“It doesn’t get passed if there’s absolutely no concessions to conservatives,” said an aide to a RSC member. “There will be at least some deal to get it out of committee … [and] save them the embarrassment of Paul Ryan being defeated in committee.”
A number too low, however, could leave appropriators with an embarrassment of their own: not being able to pass their bills.
Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), a Republican member of both the Budget and Appropriations committees, was in Tuesday’s meeting and said he is trying to convince Members that they have to help pass spending bills if they set a low budget threshold.
“If you’re going to vote for a budget with a particular figure in it, then you’ve got to vote and help us on the appropriations bills,” Cole said.
Rep. Tom Price, a Budget Committee member and a former chairman of the RSC, said “there’s been a maturation process” among Members of the conservative group.
“There’s a recognition that you can’t vote for one number and then not support the appropriations bills that we’ve charged the appropriators to make happen,” said the Georgia lawmaker, who is chairman of the Republican Policy
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, however, maintained that he will likely need Democratic support to pass his bills, which means setting the budget at a “reasonable” level.
“I want to go to work,” the Kentucky Republican said. “I just want a number, I want a number that’s reasonable and a number that I can practically pass these bills, which more than likely will take some level of bipartisanship.”