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Fiscal Conservatives Buck Leadership, Send Tighter Budget to Floor (Updated)

Price's budget goes to the House floor without the additional defense spending national security hawks had insisted upon. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Price's budget goes to the House floor without the additional defense spending national security hawks had insisted upon. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 1:02 p.m. |  House fiscal conservatives took the upper hand — for the moment — Thursday in their struggle with Republican defense hawks for control of the GOP’s 2016 federal budget proposal.  

After 24 hours of uncertainty and stops and starts , the House Budget Committee voted along party lines, 22-13, to send a leaner spending plan to the House floor for a vote. GOP leadership had pressured Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., all week to find enough votes on his panel to boost the plan’s funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations account. Without that additional defense spending — about $2 billion in a overall federal budget of more than $3.8 trillion — many House Republicans said they wouldn’t support the plan on the chamber floor next week.  

When Price said the panel’s fiscal conservatives wouldn’t budge, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise tried to go around the new chairman to find more Republican support on the panel for the OCO.  

But by late Wednesday, after a marathon markup session, it was clear that Price was right: The votes weren’t there.  

By midday Thursday, GOP leaders had moved on to Plan B, with Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, insisting the amendment boosting the OCO would ultimately make it into the underlying resolution.  

The Rules Committee will meet next week to set the parameters for floor consideration, during which time it is expected to add the language.  

“I think Chairman Price and the Budget Committee have done good work, but in consultation with Mr. Price and the Budget Committee we agreed this morning that the rule will reflect a higher overseas contingency account number to reflect the wishes of a large majority of our members,” Boehner said at his weekly news conference.  

Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, was also confident Thursday that he would be able to put the amendment into the base text of the budget resolution without a revolt from members who often decry the collapse of “regular order.”  

“Getting the Budget Committee resolution finished on the floor is going to require a bit of work, as the speaker talked about today, through the Rules Committee,” Sessions told reporters, “and we’re trying to work together to make sure the members understand the options that are available to us and why decisions have been made, and this is expected to be able to help members clarify in their minds why working together as a team to get it done is important.”  

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., a member of the Budget Committee, felt good about the current state of play.  

“The amendment leadership was proposing, it was last minute, and we had put our product together, rolled it all out, and we thought it was more important to have a broader conversation with the rest of the conference,” said Stutzman, who wants extra OCO money to be offset — another key point of contention. “For me, to just vote for that amendment and to pass it out of committee without talking to other colleagues, I didn’t think it was fair to them.  

“Chairman Price,” Stutzman added, “was put in a very awkward spot, and that’s not fair to him.”  

Leaving the House floor after votes on Thursday, Price wouldn’t comment on the drama that has characterized his first term as Budget chairman.  

“Look, this is a process that happens a lot as we move through with people’s passionate views and we work through the committee and got a budget out of our committee that I’m very proud of and we’ll move forward,” Price said. “My whole emphasis right now is getting a budget resolution passed on the floor of the House next week so that’s where all my efforts are concentrated now.”  

Communication and transparency in the process could be key in getting votes from the staunchest conservatives in the House Republican Conference — the ones who wouldn’t vote for the amendment in the Budget Committee and the countless others who will have their say on the matter on the chamber floor.  

Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., intimately familiar with having his legislative efforts derailed by ideological differences within the conference, wasn’t sure what would come next.  

Asked if there would be a rebellion among conservatives, Rogers said simply, “I can’t say, I don’t know. I’m not a whip.”  

The whip operation to secure support for the budget will be a challenge, with Republican leaders well aware that they aren’t going to get any Democrats to help make up for a big shortfall.  

Republican Rob Woodall of Georgia, a member of the Budget Committee, remained optimistic.

“My chairman’s a pretty good vote counter,” Woodall said of Price shortly before the committee passed the resolution. “He had a big smile on his face this morning because the product we have been working on for months and months and months is about to come out of committee an hour from now.”

Matt Fuller, David Eldridge, Tamar Hallerman and Emily Ethridge contributed to this report.

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