Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the House Budget Committee

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the House Budget Committee J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House GOP Budget Plans Face a Minefield

Disputes over mandatory programs and defense spending are complicating Republican leaders’ efforts to bring their own members on board.

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers un­veiled their budget out­line Thursday morn­ing, but deep di­vi­sions re­main in the con­fer­ence about how much the plan spends, wheth­er the cham­ber can off­set fund­ing, and where de­fense money comes from.

Lead­ers spent Thursday af­ter­noon test­ing the tem­per­at­ure of their pro­pos­al in the GOP Con­fer­ence, but so far, sources said the plan was not gain­ing enough sup­port to pass. Lead­ers will re­vis­it the is­sue after the re­cess week, but if there is no move­ment, they have said they will pass a year­long con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion and move on.

At a private con­fer­ence meet­ing, House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Price un­veiled the plan, which sticks to the $1.07 tril­lion out­line agreed to in Oc­to­ber and prom­ises to bal­ance with­in 10 years while al­low­ing a vote on a sep­ar­ate meas­ure off­set­ting $30 bil­lion in spend­ing with man­dat­ory cuts over a two-year win­dow.

The spe­cif­ics of those cuts have yet to be out­lined. As a res­ult, some House con­ser­vat­ives im­me­di­ately de­cried the pro­pos­al, not­ing they would not vote for a $1.07 tril­lion budget un­less $30 bil­lion in cuts comes in fisc­al 2017—and they want lead­er­ship to lay out a plan to force them in­to law, rather than al­low­ing the Sen­ate or the pres­id­ent to block them.

Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bill Flores said Price made a “good start” by pro­pos­ing the cuts over two years, but that he needs to see where the cuts are, what the re­forms are, and how they put them in place.

“I think Tom has moved a long way to­ward what we need to do. We still need to help get him the rest of the way,” Flores said.

Oth­ers were less for­giv­ing.

“I still don’t think it goes far enough,” said Rep. Andy Har­ris, an ap­pro­pri­at­or and mem­ber of the House Free­dom Caucus. “I lean ‘no’ on it. I think we have to have real off­sets.”

To try to make that pos­sible, some mem­bers are look­ing to a pro­pos­al that Har­ris has ad­voc­ated and that Rep. Tom Mc­Clin­tock put onto pa­per and out­lined at Thursday’s meet­ing. Mc­Clin­tock’s plan calls for House rules changes to al­low man­dat­ory spend­ing to be amended in ap­pro­pri­ations bills and for­bid man­dat­ory spend­ing ex­pan­sions in the same way the House for­bids ear­marks.

But wheth­er lead­er­ship would go along with such a plan re­mains un­clear. Strip­ping jur­is­dic­tion from some com­mit­tees mid-ses­sion to give more power to the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee would surely cause waves among com­mit­tee chairs, and per­haps even con­ser­vat­ives wary of giv­ing ap­pro­pri­at­ors more power. And lead­er­ship staff on Thursday were ex­amin­ing the scope of an all-out ban on man­dat­ory spend­ing ex­pan­sions and what prac­tic­al ef­fects that would have on policy.

Still, if con­ser­vat­ives haven’t found enough reas­ons to vote against the budget, an­oth­er is lurk­ing in the form of off-budget money used to fight the war on ter­ror, also known as the Over­seas Con­tin­gency Op­er­a­tions fund. The is­sue al­most de­railed the pro­cess last year when de­fense hawks and mem­bers who wanted spend­ing cuts could not agree how much to al­loc­ate for de­fense.

House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mac Thorn­berry said Thursday the budget plan would al­low the De­part­ment of De­fense to use $23 bil­lion of the OCO funds, ef­fect­ively rais­ing the Pentagon’s base budget from $551 bil­lion to $574 bil­lion.

“While I do not think that is nearly enough money for de­fense, that was the agree­ment, and I am for stick­ing with the agree­ment,” he said.

Thorn­berry said there are on­go­ing dis­cus­sions about plussing up OCO even more to ac­count for pro­grams Pres­id­ent Obama pro­posed, in­clud­ing keep­ing ser­vice mem­bers in Afgh­anistan, do­ing more against IS­IS, and show­ing sup­port for East­ern European al­lies wary of Rus­sia’s in­cur­sion in­to the re­gion.

“I think there are still dis­cus­sions go­ing on about the OCO part of the budget and how we deal with a pres­id­ent who has pro­posed all these activ­it­ies but hasn’t pro­posed the money,” Thorn­berry said.

The prob­lem is the money is not in­cluded in the budget’s topline $1.07 tril­lion price tag, which has in the past drawn re­bukes from mem­bers who are con­cerned about spend­ing and think OCO is a gim­mick.

Still, Price said that even if the con­fer­ence can­not uni­fy around a budget, deem­ing a budget is not an op­tion he wants to pur­sue. “I don’t think that’s a vi­able op­tion,” he said. “I don’t think it’s pro­duct­ive in uni­fy­ing the con­fer­ence.”

Speak­er Paul Ry­an, for his part, re­it­er­ated that he will not push the budget plan on mem­bers any more than he already has. Ry­an said he wants to pass a budget, but has said if mem­bers do not want to pass one, they do not have to.

“Ul­ti­mately this is go­ing to be a de­cision made by our team. That’s what I laid out to our con­fer­ence this morn­ing,” Ry­an said. “I fun­da­ment­ally be­lieve that we need to pass a budget and we need to have a full func­tion­ing ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess, and I laid that out to the mem­bers.”