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House Budget Priority: Energizing Election-Year Base

Some lawmakers and experts dispute the notion that a new budget resolution laden with conservative policies would be a drag on GOP electoral prospects, arguing it may help Republicans energize their base amid the typical low turnout of midterm elections.

“It is an election year. People are concerned. I understand,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Budget Committee member who is also on the whip team. But he said it will help Republicans politically to set out their agenda if the GOP captures control of the Senate and eventually the presidency.

“I think it will help more than hurt because it motivates your own people,” Cole said. “This is one of the few things we’ve actual been pretty unified on. And I think it’s a strong signal to our base that if we can deliver the election victories that we need, we’re prepared to make some really tough decisions.”

House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan’s fiscal blueprint is shaping up to be more political than previous budget resolutions that served largely as a manifestos of party policy. That’s in part because it is an election year, but also because there is no chance of conferencing with the Senate; Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., will not write a budget because the fiscal 2015 discretionary spending limit is already set in the deal (PL 113-67) passed by Congress in December.

Some budget experts think it will be difficult, if not impossible, for GOP leaders to get enough Republican votes to adopt the Ryan budget resolution because it is expected to include deeper and more accelerated spending cuts than the Wisconsin Republican’s past budgets.

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has not yet committed to bringing one to the floor in private meetings with lawmakers, according to Republicans, which may signal caution in leadership ranks about taking up a deeply partisan measure. And although there have been suggestions the Budget Committee may take up the resolution as early as April 2, the panel has not said when a markup in planned.

Cole said the House Republican Conference “needs to go out and prove to our base again, we back what Ryan says, that does represent the economic vision and thinking of our conference and we’re willing to make the statement and put it out there.”

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said in off-year elections, both parties will try to rally loyalists and “the Ryan budget will be music to tea party and other conservatives’ ears. Just another version of ‘It’s Time for a Change,’ the most durable campaign slogan in American history.”

Getting enough Republican votes to adopt the budget without any Democratic support will be a challenge, however, since 62 Republicans opposed the Ryan-Murray budget deal. Most of them voted against it because it raised the fiscal 2015 discretionary spending cap. The budget resolution is expected to maintain that higher spending level.

But several Republicans who voted against the deal said they would consider supporting a budget resolution if it contains other policies that reduce the deficit.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., was booted off the Budget Committee in 2012 after voting against Ryan’s budget that year. The conservative lawmaker voted against the budget resolution again last year.

But this year, he said, he is more likely to support it, though he is waiting to see what it includes.

“In recent, previous years, the budget violated the Budget Control Act,” he said, because it proposed raising defense caps at the expense of non-defense caps.

Though he opposed the increases in discretionary spending in the Ryan-Murray deal, Amash said, “It is what it is now.”

But the election-year dynamics may be what matters most, because any legislative action will end in the House.

“This is a paper budget,” Sabato said. “It isn’t going to happen, not now, and not as long as President Obama is in office, even if the GOP takes over the Senate in November. It’s called the veto. So voters won’t see or feel any difference.”

Sabato said Democrats are sure to make hay over deeper spending cuts in the budget resolution, but he doesn’t think that will make much difference.

“They would have cited cuts in earlier proposals anyway,” he said. “Viewers’ eyes glaze over when numbers pass before them in TV ads. Does it really make much difference to party voters whether the figure cited is $100 billion or $500 billion? It’s a lot of money either way.”

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