GOP Turns Page to Budget Battle
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s bold new budget blueprint could not have come at a more opportune time for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who will have to sell conservatives on a compromise with Senate Democrats and the White House to keep the government operating past Friday.
With the Wisconsin Republican set to release his blueprint at 10 a.m. today, the focus in Washington, D.C., will start shifting to his plan for trillions in cuts instead of the tens of billions in the marathon debate over the continuing resolution to keep the government open.
That could help Boehner convince his Conference that now is the time to cut a deal — even if it means compromising with Democrats on spending and policy riders.
“If we get to a point in the discussion where we are $3 [billion] or $4 billion apart while also talking about the other budget that will cut trillions, it should add some needed perspective to the debate,” one GOP aide said.
That’s provided they actually get a deal, which looked dicey Monday afternoon when Boehner and other top Republicans issued a flurry of statements slamming Senate Democrats.
“Despite attempts by Democrats to lock in a number among themselves, I’ve made clear that their $33 billion is not enough and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors,” Boehner said.
Jon Summers, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), sounded a hopeful note. “As we get closer to a final agreement, we are confident that in the end Republicans will reject cries from the Tea Party to shut down the government and work with us on a solution that makes smart cuts while protecting our economy’s recent gains,” he said in a statement.
President Barack Obama is set to meet with Congressional leaders today to try to clear the logjam.
If all goes well for Boehner, by this time next week he will have inked a deal with historic midyear spending cuts without the politically radioactive move of shutting down the government. And he will have promised the conservative base that there will be much more cutting to come.
GOP leadership aides said that their bosses aren’t banking on Ryan’s budget to sway lawmakers to vote for the CR, although they have moved back to earlier talking points of framing the spending debate around the CR, budget and the debt limit debate.
“All along, we said there are several bites at the apple,” one GOP leadership aide said. “The CR will be one bite, then the budget and debt limit will continue our effort. [But] I don’t think you can point to the budget tomorrow, [and say] therefore we’ll pass a lower amount in the CR.”
But it doesn’t hurt.
Ryan said on “Fox News Sunday” that his budget aims to cut “a lot more” than the $4 trillion that Obama’s fiscal commission proposed.
“We’re going to put out a budget that gets us on a path to not only balancing the budget but gets us on a path of paying off the debt,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he’d like to shift the focus to the bigger picture.
“I do want to get off talking about tens of billions of dollars, shaving 2 to 4 percent off our budget deficit and get down to the debate about trillions of dollars and paying off the debt,” he said. “That is where we’re going to go with our discussion this week.”
Conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity could help Boehner by shifting their focus this week to the battle over the Ryan budget instead of the CR.
AFP President Tim Phillips said that while they still want Boehner to get as many cuts included in the CR as he can, the budget blueprint is the “truer test” for House Republicans.
“The dollar amounts are just so much bigger,” he said. “It’s definitely a more important battle.”
His group is already planning messaging on the budget in dozens of legislative districts across the country, and it is also planning a rally in Washington on Wednesday.
Some freshman Members have said they see the CR as a test of their creditability, even if the numbers aren’t big enough to put much of a dent in the deficit.
“We’ve got to demonstrate that we are serious,” Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) said. “People do not believe that we will make the hard choices. … We don’t get a pass on the CR.”
Griffin said that while it’s good that Ryan is proposing a blueprint to balance the budget, “that’s no reason to let up here.”
A senior Democratic aide also said that the prospect of a dramatic and “shiny” budget blueprint helping Boehner with his hard-liners is a bit of a stretch, noting that they revolted earlier this year when Ryan initially proposed a $32 billion spending cut in the CR.
“People keep assuming these Republicans are like the Republicans who came before,” the aide said. “These guys are different. They are here to burn the place down from the inside out.”
The aide said that Boehner ramping up his rhetoric on Monday isn’t a sign that he’s confident of his right flank or that Ryan’s budget will give him much political capital, either.
Democrats have already started attacking the Ryan plan for its proposals to turn Medicaid into a block grant program for states and transform the government-run Medicare program into a subsidy for private insurance plans.
“To govern is to choose, and it is not courageous to protect tax breaks for millionaires, oil companies and other big-money special interests while slashing our investment in education, ending the current health care guarantees for seniors on Medicare and denying health care coverage to tens of millions of Americans,” Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said.