House Speaker Paul Ryan has stressed the importance of budgeting throughout his career.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has stressed the importance of budgeting throughout his career. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House GOP May Start on Spending Bills Without a Budget Blueprint to Avoid Election-Year Shutdown

Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans,are try­ing to pro­ject re­spons­ib­il­ity and or­der, proof that they can lead the coun­try.

With Con­gress set to miss the Fri­day dead­line for passing a budget, House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers seem to be com­ing around to the idea of mov­ing on with spend­ing bills without a spend­ing blue­print.

Bring­ing ap­pro­pri­ations bills to the floor without a budget after May 15—the of­fi­cial date on which the House can be­gin mov­ing the meas­ures—is with­in the cham­ber’s rules, but do­ing so would be an ad­mis­sion of de­feat for a speak­er who has stressed the im­port­ance of budget­ing throughout his ca­reer. Do­ing so could an­ger House con­ser­vat­ives, and the ma­jor­ity’s in­ab­il­ity to fol­low its own timeline has already be­gun to draw mock­ery from Demo­crats.

Non­ethe­less, Speak­er Paul Ry­an on Thursday said in plain­er terms than he had be­fore that he might al­low ap­pro­pri­at­ors to move their bills to the floor without a budget. Pre­vi­ously, he has said he does not want to move ahead without one.

“We have not fore­closed any of those op­tions, so we haven’t de­cided one way or the oth­er,” Ry­an said Thursday when asked wheth­er he would al­low the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess to be­gin. “We are hav­ing those con­ver­sa­tions with our mem­bers and we do want to pass a budget. Gran­ted, there is an ap­pro­pri­ations num­ber that’s already out there. That’s one of the reas­ons … it’s taken the pres­sure off the feel for a need for a budget.”

Ap­pro­pri­at­ors have been hold­ing hear­ings on their spend­ing bills, and are mark­ing up to a $1.07 tril­lion level, which was agreed to in a bicam­er­al budget agree­ment in Oc­to­ber. Un­for­tu­nately for lead­ers, 153 House Re­pub­lic­ans voted against that agree­ment, and many now want Ry­an to try to lower the budget, or force cuts else­where to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

Mem­bers of the House Free­dom Caucus and the Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee, in par­tic­u­lar, have been ur­ging lead­ers to en­gage the Sen­ate and Pres­id­ent Obama by at­tach­ing $30 bil­lion in spend­ing cuts to a must-pass bill. Rep. Dave Brat, a Free­dom Caucus mem­ber, said his group has giv­en lead­ers scores of sug­ges­tions about money they can cut. They just want lead­ers to lead the fight, he said.

“The way you do that is not to give up your lever­age ahead of time,” Brat said. “If you want to do a House bill, good, let’s do a House bill. … Then ne­go­ti­ate with the Sen­ate and the White House after you do a House bill. But not after you wave the white flag and give up all your lever­age. No, I can’t go for­ward with that.”

Lead­ers, however, have been wary of be­ing drawn in­to a le­gis­lat­ive scuffle that could end with a gov­ern­ment shut­down in the midst of a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans, des­pite their party’s mer­cur­i­al lead­ing can­did­ate for pres­id­ent, Don­ald Trump, are try­ing to pro­ject re­spons­ib­il­ity and or­der, proof that they can lead the coun­try.

That is, in part, why ap­pro­pri­at­ors are itch­ing to start the spend­ing pro­cess. Lead­ers prom­ised the pub­lic reg­u­lar or­der, and if they man­age to get a pres­id­en­tial sig­na­ture on even a few bills be­fore the Ju­ly re­cess, they could claim vic­tory and roll the rest in­to a pack­age they can pass by Septem­ber.

“If they want to hold to their po­s­i­tion they can. The sad thing is there’s noth­ing to be gained,” Rep. Tom Cole, an ap­pro­pri­at­or, said. “The budget’s not law. What they’re giv­ing up is a chance at re­con­cili­ation, a chance to keep us on the path of en­ti­tle­ment re­form, to keep vot­ing for it, and a chance to have a more or­derly ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess.”

“‘Wait a minute, wer­en’t you the guys with ‘No Budget, No Pay?”’ Those are real vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies,” Cole con­tin­ued, mim­ick­ing the Demo­crats’ knock on Re­pub­lic­ans.

That was ex­actly the mes­sage Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic Lead­er Harry Re­id had for Re­pub­lic­ans on Thursday. When asked in a press con­fer­ence this week if the Sen­ate planned on passing a budget, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell said the cham­ber is “wait­ing to see if the House is able” to do it. Re­id panned the com­ment, re­mind­ing the Re­pub­lic­ans of their ri­dicule when they were in the minor­ity—and of Mc­Con­nell’s prom­ise to pass a budget “every year” in 2012.

“They shed cro­codile tears by the buck­et­ful,” Re­id said Thursday. “They even threatened to with­hold mem­bers’ pay as pun­ish­ment. There was le­gis­la­tion pro­duced to that ef­fect. But it was all for show.”

Of course, it’s not ne­ces­sary to pass a budget this year. Con­gress has already set the top-line num­bers for fisc­al 2016 and 2017, and Mc­Con­nell has said the Sen­ate will move to the ap­pro­pri­ations bills next week as­sum­ing those fig­ures.

But the fail­ure to do so non­ethe­less re­mains an em­bar­rass­ment, not just be­cause it will be the first time this dec­ade a Re­pub­lic­an-led House hasn’t passed a budget, and the fail­ure comes with Ry­an, the party’s chief budget ar­chi­tect, at the helm.

The struggle to pass a budget is es­pe­cially pro­nounced be­cause Re­pub­lic­ans can­not rely on Demo­crats to bail them out. Even more so than not passing a budget, the budget it­self is a con­stant well­spring for at­tack ads from Demo­crats.

“The budget that House Re­pub­lic­ans have put for­ward, like the sev­er­al be­fore it, is based on the same kind of trickle-down eco­nom­ics that we have seen again and again—en­rich those with plenty, while mak­ing con­di­tions more dif­fi­cult for those who are strug­gling just to get by,” House Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er said at a Demo­crat­ic hear­ing on poverty Thursday.

Still, it is not clear wheth­er lead­ers would need Demo­crat­ic help to pass a mo­tion to pro­ceed with spend­ing bills in the ab­sence of a budget. GOP aides said this week they are count­ing on the idea that their own mem­bers, as well as Demo­crat­ic ones, would be hard pressed to vote against de­bate on bills gov­ern­ing mil­it­ary con­struc­tion, vet­er­ans, and de­fense.

Alex Ro­gers con­trib­uted to this re­port.