House Democrats will propose a competing long-term budget plan in the coming days in a high-stakes gamble aimed at not ceding political ground to Republicans on fiscal matters.
The move by Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen allows Democrats to have a voice in the all-consuming budget debate. However, it also poses risks for the Caucus because various factions are planning their own budget proposals.
The decision to put forward an alternative to the proposal by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) follows more than a month of meetings between Van Hollen and his Democratic colleagues. The Maryland Democrat sat down with nearly every ranking member, held a meeting last month with leaders of the Tri-Caucus and has been in regular contact with his fellow Democratic leadership colleagues. One Democratic leadership aide said Van Hollen aggressively pushed for a separate House product despite arguments that the president’s budget was sufficient.
At a press conference Tuesday, Van Hollen vowed to press on.
“Yes, the Democratic Caucus will have an alternative, and the alternative will reduce the deficits in a serious and predictable and steady way, and it will demonstrate a very different approach going forward,” he told reporters.
Van Hollen did not share specifics of his plan or say when it would be unveiled, only assuring that “certainly the Democratic alternative would be ready for floor debate” next week. Instead, he focused on lobbing bombs toward the GOP for a budget plan that he charged would decimate Medicare and Medicaid and represents “a recycled, rigid ideology.”
The Budget Committee is scheduled to mark up Ryan’s budget plan today, and the measure will be on the floor by next week. Ryan’s proposal cuts $6.2 trillion in spending and $1.8 trillion in taxes over 10 years, privatizes Medicare insurance and shrinks Medicaid. The proposal also eliminates health care subsidies included in the health care reform law.
Democrats eagerly sought to tie Republicans to Ryan’s plan Tuesday while the GOP scoffed at the minority’s rhetoric given that they didn’t pass a budget while they controlled the House last year.
“Democrats will say whatever they think they can demagogue on, and so what? That’s their job. They’re in the minority,” Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said. “They don’t have to govern. They don’t have to be responsible. They can just make noise. It’s their job.”
Van Hollen’s announcement has the full backing of the Democratic leadership team. Yet while the goal is to put the Caucus on the offensive against Republicans, Democrats risk muddying their messaging going into next week’s budget floor debate since other groups, notably the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus, are expected to come forward with their own plans by next week, according to aides.
In an interview with Roll Call last month, Van Hollen conceded that point, acknowledging the importance of having a unified message on a Democratic budget plan.
“I don’t have any concerns with that so long as if we were to put together a Democratic alternative,” he said at the time. “I do want a good degree of unity around that.”
The move also demonstrates a clear break from last year, when the Democratic majority spent months trying to decide whether to bring a budget blueprint to the floor and ultimately decided against doing so. The situation then was complicated by the fact that then-Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) was facing a tough re-election battle and a detailed budget might have given his opponents ammunition. As it was, Republicans targeted Spratt for failing to bring forth a budget, and he ultimately lost his re-election bid.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva conceded that House Democrats have learned from last year’s decision not to put forward a budget proposal.
“I think you learn from those things, and if we don’t have anything to compare and contrast, then we just sound like we’re saying no, and I don’t think the public wants to hear that,” the Arizona Democrat said.
Several House Democrats said they supported Van Hollen’s efforts to prepare a budget for next week’s floor debate because it is important for the Caucus to draw a contrast between Ryan’s proposal and Democrats’ vision for balancing the budget.
Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said there is a “big desire on the part of the Democrats to show the public the difference and how you can have different priorities and make real investments without undermining the success we’ve had in the past.”
Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) agreed: “I think it’s important for the Democrats to show what we would do in the next fiscal year to fund the government and make the necessary changes without savaging the safety net like Medicaid or denying seniors in the future a program that has been so important to Medicare.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.