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Budget Leaves House Republicans in a Bind

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Mike Simpson and some Republicans on the House Budget Committee want to pass a budget in line with the spending levels set by July’s Budget Control Act.

“If you’ve got a group of people that are going to vote ‘no’ no matter what because any money is too much money, then you’re going to need Democratic support, and that means the number has to go — guess what? — up to [$1.047 trillion],” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of both the Budget and Appropriations committees.

And if Ryan moves forward with his plan to reform entitlements in his fiscal 2013 budget, Democrats will most likely shun the plan regardless.

Cole said it would be pointless, then, to low-ball a budget only to have to ultimately raise the spending cap to Budget Control Act levels when they negotiate with the Senate.

“We all know that once it gets down to negotiations with the Senate, it will be done within that framework,” he said. “If the Budget Control Act says [$1.047 trillion], that’s where you’re going to be. Do you really want to structure something that you know you’re not going to hit that number, pass it, and then at the end of the day look like you caved in the fall by going up to [$1.047 trillion]?”

Passing no budget at all would be a public relations problem for Republican leaders. It would suggest a crisis of leadership in the chamber and undermine their attacks that Democrats are irresponsible for not passing a budget.

Adding another layer to the problem, House appropriators have an ambitious agenda to pass their bills by the middle of this year, before the election hoopla stymies any legislative momentum. Several appropriators said that with a number that low, they would not be able to pass their bills at all, let alone on time.

“I think it would be very difficult to pass any bills on the floor, obviously. But if that’s where it is, that’s where it is,” said Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), an Appropriations cardinal.

Appropriations Committee Democrats have indicated that they do not intend to help pass appropriations bills if they conform to a lower level of spending than they originally agreed to in the Budget Control Act.

“An agreement should be an agreement,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), an appropriator. “We expect all sides to honor that agreement.”

Garrett countered that appropriators will have to work with the number the Budget Committee gives them.

“One good thing about the appropriators is this,” he said. “They said, ‘You tell us what number you need us to appropriate to, and we can do it.’”

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) a member of both the Budget and Appropriations committees, was more optimistic, saying the budget will probably conform to the Budget Control Act level. He said that talks are ongoing and that entitlement programs will get even more scrutiny as discretionary spending has been cut to the bone.

“We have to look at entitlements,” Calvert said. “We’ve squeezed a lot out of the discretionary side of the budget, so we have to look at the entitlement side.”

Calvert mentioned the food stamp program as a possible target. Republicans argue that funding for the program has increased in the past decade and that it is rife with fraud.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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