By BRIDGET BOWMAN and LINDSEY McPHERSON
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky pressed House conservatives Thursday to block the budget resolution that starts the process to repeal the 2010 health care law because it would add trillions of dollars to the deficit.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters that the group made no decisions Thursday but would stake out what it can support during a caucus meeting next week.
The meeting between approximately two dozen caucus members and Paul was “ad hoc” and put together at the last minute, the North Carolina Republican said, adding, “I found it to be a very enlightening and good meeting that gave us food for thought.”
Paul has argued that conservatives should block the fiscal 2017 budget resolution now being debated in the Senate on fiscal grounds, even though it would set up an expedited procedure to achieve a top GOP priority and strike portions of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“I think conservatives need to band together,” Paul told reporters Thursday.
“I wanted to make sure that conservatives in the House knew that together we can have some power and impact on what the budget will be,” Paul said. “That the budget is a Republican document, there will be no Democrats on board. It should be a conservative document, that it should not add $9.7 trillion to the debt over ten years.”
Paul said one unnamed caucus member noted that the group would allow the budget document to move forward despite the deficit concerns, and then try to bring the government’s ledgers more into balance on the fiscal 2018 budget.
But Paul countered that there is a “danger” in supporting the budget currently being considered, and that Republican leadership will plan to use the next budget to start the process for instituting a tax overhaul.
“My point is that the Republican leadership will come back and say, ‘You already voted for it once, why won’t you vote for it a second time?’” Paul said. He later added, “In four months, they’re going to say, ‘Well, we really want tax reform so why don’t you just eat a bad budget, take a bad budget in order to get to tax reform?’”
Since the Senate can adopt the budget with a simple majority, Paul alone cannot block it. He conceded that his effort to sway more conservatives to block the resolution is “an uphill battle.“
The fiscal conservatives of the Freedom Caucus played a pivotal role in preventing the fiscal 2017 budget resolution from getting to the House floor last year, raising objections to spending above the sequestration caps.
Caucus members will “obviously” evaluate cost when deciding whether to support the budget resolution now, Meadows said.
“The Freedom Caucus has been very strong in their support of a balanced budget, so I don’t know — it’s too early to tell whether that would be a casualty of voting for this budget,” he said.
Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, a conservative who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus, attended the meeting to listen to his home-state senator. While he shares Paul’s concerns, Massie said he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote.
“I want to see if it’s the exact same resolution when it gets here,” he said. “But this is what I was worried about — that they would use this vehicle to force Republicans to vote for a budget that never balances.”
Leadership has argued that the fiscal 2017 budget resolution is only a vehicle to repeal the health care law. Responding to that argument, Massie said, “If they want to tell us these are pretend numbers, then why do your pretend numbers not even balance?”
Massie, the only Republican not to vote to re-elect Paul D. Ryan speaker on Tuesday, said this dilemma is the “epitome” of why he can’t support the current leadership.
“We’re given a lose-lose proposition,” he said. “You either vote to keep Obamacare or you voted to add $10 trillion to the budget when in fact, it would be so easy to have a conservative budget that repeals Obamacare. But that’s the leadership’s decision, what goes on the floor.”