House Republicans Stymied Over Own Budget

Price said the votes weren't there. So far, he's right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Price said the votes weren't there. So far, he's right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 19, 2015 at 2:16am

A marathon markup of House Republicans’ proposed 2016 federal budget ended after midnight Wednesday with no resolution between the two GOP factions — defense hawks on one side, fiscal conservatives on the other — determined to put their own, seemingly incompatible stamps on the largely symbolic spending plan.  

Members and aides weren’t immediately sure early Thursday if or when the House Budget panel would reconvene to try again to move the budget out of committee and onto the floor. The chaos signaled a minor vote-counting crisis had escalated into another full-scale meltdown between GOP leaders and fiscal conservatives.  

After a day of stops and starts, Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., seemed ready late Wednesday to finally move forward with a sweetener for the defense hawks: An amendment, to be offered by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., that would add $2 billion to the Overseas Contingency Operations fund.  

The amendment also struck provisions requiring the new spending be offset by cuts elsewhere — alienating Republicans looking to hold the line on federal spending.  

Price had insisted in the lead-up to the Tuesday rollout of his first budget blueprint that putting more money into defense spending — or even OCO, for that matter — wouldn’t pass muster with his more conservative colleagues.  

Even Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who is not a member of the Budget Committee, told reporters on Wednesday he would rather discuss raising taxes than increase the deficit.  

But Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and his chief deputy, Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, warned that the new spending had to be adopted during the markup. Without it, a bloc of defense hawks would vote no on the floor — killing the GOP leadership-approved budget, which is not expected to get any Democratic votes.  

So on Tuesday night, Scalise and McHenry took the unusual step of going around Price, doing their own whip count of the panel’s Republicans and apparently finding — despite the new Budget chairman’s earlier comments to the contrary — enough votes to advance the amendment.  

By early Wednesday, though, support was wavering. The start time for the markup was pushed back by half an hour, and then there was an hour-long recess in the late afternoon for Budget Republicans to huddle with GOP leadership.  

Later, Republicans appeared ready to move ahead on Rokita’s amendment. Shortly after 10 p.m., the markup again went into recess.  

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., showed up, ready to mediate.  

In the end, it looked like Price was right: The votes weren’t there.  

The House Budget Committee on the GOP side of the aisle is stacked with leadership loyalists such as Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Diane Black of Tennessee and Steve Womack of Arkansas.  

It’s also filled with members who voted against Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, back in January, such as Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, and freshmen who got elected with promises to promote fiscal austerity and buck their leaders, such as Dave Brat of Virginia, who beat then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the GOP primary last summer.  

As members headed home for the night and staffers sought to tie up loose ends after a long day, one GOP aide close to the talks had this to say about Scalise and McHenry’s second guessing of Price’s vote count: “They were wrong.”