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Conservatives Balk at Budget Deal Process

Ryan heads into a House Republican Conference meeting Monday with Majority Whip Steve Scalise. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Ryan heads into a House Republican Conference meeting Monday with Majority Whip Steve Scalise. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Conservatives who supported an effort to oust Speaker John A. Boehner pointed to a budget deal emerging Monday as a prime example of why the House needs new leadership.  

“To me it’s business as usual for Speaker Boehner,” Rep. John Fleming, R-La., a House Freedom Caucus founding member, said after a GOP conference meeting. Members were briefed on the outline of an agreement that would set top-line funding levels for fiscals 2016 and 2017 and suspend the debt ceiling through the 2016 elections. Members said they were not provided enough details Monday evening to judge the substance of the deal but complained about the process by which it came together and the way it could advance quickly in a matter of days, just before Boehner’s departure.  

Despite the consternation, there appeared to be a pathway with a combination of Democratic votes and national security hawks in both chambers.  

“Members are cautiously supportive but they have a lot of questions,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said. He predicted ultimately the deal would garner support from the majority of House Republicans.  

The appropriations process ground to a halt earlier in the year, with Senate Democrats thwarting the advancement of any GOP-led spending bills that were written at lower, post-sequester levels, in effect forcing the negotiations that seemed to be reaping fruit Monday evening.  

In announcing the deal during the closed-door meeting, Boehner effectively “threw the committee chairmen under the bus,” Fleming said.  

“He says, ‘If our committee chairman had done their work or if they had been allowed to do their work’ — he made it sound like in some cases they didn’t want to and in some cases they were blocked somehow; I don’t know how they would be blocked — but, ‘if they did their work early enough that this wouldn’t be necessary,'” Fleming told reporters.  

House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., took objection to that. According to Fleming, Price “got up and said, ‘With all due respect, I worked on this for months and I was told by leadership to stand down.’ And so we got a real moment of candor there and transparency.”  

With a vote to nominate a candidate for speaker Wednesday, Fleming said it “would be appreciated” if Paul D. Ryan, who is favored to win the position, made a statement before that regarding his views on the matter.  

“We would want [Ryan] to change the process, to make it more transparent, to let the committees do their work early, and to make sure that all members have the opportunity to weigh in early rather than find out when it’s too late,” Fleming said.  

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., was so frustrated with the process, which he called a “non-starter,” that he already committed to vote against it in protest. “Yes, that’s a fair reason” to vote against it, he said.  

It was wrong of leadership to negotiate the deal without speaking to any conference members, especially key committee chairmen, Amash said.  

“We’re all legislators,” he said. “We’re supposed to be part of the process and if the outcome is more conservative or more liberal, so be it. But allow us to participate in the process and let the House determine the outcome through the votes.”  

Fleming predicted that most GOP members who decide to vote against the deal will do so because of its substance, but he maintained that the process of putting together deals such as this one will be something members want Ryan to address if he’s elected speaker.  

Another founding HFC member, Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho, suggested the House scrap this plan, pass a short-term debt limit bill and allow committees to work on a better long-term debt limit and budget package.  

“I think it would be a wise idea for us to just move forward and let Ryan start negotiating this stuff,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be doing this right now.”  

But for some members, this deal is reminiscent of what Ryan’s negotiated in the past.  

“It’s Ryan-Murray 2.0,” said Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, referring to the deal crafted in 2013 by the House and Senate budget chairmen. Massie said he would vote against it the current deal.  

Correction 9:10 a.m. A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Massie as a member of the Freedom Caucus.

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