House Speaker Paul D. Ryan laid out three budget options for House Republicans on Friday, but told members that the best chance for getting appropriations bills through the Senate would be to stick to the funding levels approved in last year's budget deal.
According to members who attended the closed door meeting, the first option is to pass a fiscal 2017 budget at sequestration levels, and the second is to keep the increased level of defense funding but return to sequestration levels for non-defense. Both those options, Ryan told members, would guarantee that the Senate will block appropriations bills from moving forward and that Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government.
The third option is to respect the budget agreement and write the 10-year budget blueprint to the higher fiscal 2017 numbers. That would lead to the best chance to pass appropriations bills through regular order, Ryan said, while not promising that all 12 bills could be signed into law.
Although not a formal option, Ryan also told members that they don't have to do a budget or appropriations bills, but it would be a shame if they did not, according to a GOP source in the room.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., characterized the choice like this: "We either write our appropriations bills to be completely acceptable to the Senate Democrats and thereby enrage the Republican base, or we allow the Senate Democrats silently and stealthily to shut the government down and allow Republicans to take the full brunt of the blame for it. Those are our two options. That is not a paradigm that we can survive in."
Conservative members left the meeting still opposed to using the budget deal numbers, which they said exacerbate the deficit issue. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he doesn't buy the argument that the budget deal numbers are locked in given how often Congress has altered budget agreements in the past.
He said the caucus had not agreed on an official position or dollar figure. Despite their continued opposition to the speaker's preference, Freedom Caucus members said they were appreciative that members will ultimately decide what the budget looks like.
A decision is not expected until Congress returns from a week-long recess the week of February 22. House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., said his panel is still planning to mark up the budget resolution that week.
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