House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia) is working to forge a budget compromise between his party’s leadership and its conservative Freedom Caucus members. | AP Photo
The House Budget Committee has delayed consideration of a 2017 fiscal blueprint until March, as the panel’s chairman and House leadership try to craft a resolution that passes the muster of conservatives.
Further complicating Speaker Paul Ryan’s effort, the Heritage Foundation — the right’s most influential think-tank — unveiled a budget blueprint that goes far, far beyond anything Ryan is proposing when it comes to slashing government spending.
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The aggressive conservative wish list, provided to POLITICO, is likely to increase unrest in the Republican conference and boost hardliners’ resistance to leadership’s pitch of sticking to a spending deal made with President Barack Obama.
“The point of the blueprint is both to educate the public but also to influence Congress and the presidential candidates,” said Paul Winfree, director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
In a nod to conservatives who want to abandon the higher spending levels, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the House Budget Committee’s chairman, has crafted a deficit reduction package to be proposed within the budget. Price has been talking with lawmakers on and off the panel and plans to present the proposal to the full GOP conference in the coming days. He had previously hoped to advance the budget through his committee this week.
A Budget committee aide said the panel’s budget would be balanced and include a proposal to achieve immediate mandatory savings, budgetary reforms and reconciliation instructions. The aide said the budget had the overwhelming support of committee members and would include multiple options for Congress to consider in order to bring immediate mandatory savings to the floor. The Budget Committee aide also said the GOP budget process is still well ahead of schedule and that appropriations bills are not expected on the floor until April.
In recent days, GOP leadership and members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have inched toward a compromise in which discretionary spending would remain at the higher level, but the House would pursue significant cuts to mandatory and entitlement spending through the appropriations process or in a reconciliation bill.
Budget Committee Republicans are optimistic their proposal will satisfy restive conservatives.
“This proposal enjoys the overwhelming support of the committee members, and the chairman looks forward to sharing it with the broader Conference as we continue moving this process forward,” said William Allison, a Budget Committee spokesman.
But the Heritage budget blueprint is primed to make GOP leadership look downright moderate.
“Ultimately I don’t think it’s a very good deal at all,” Winfree said of the emerging GOP proposal. He argued Obama would never agree to legislation with entitlement cuts and that House leadership was effectively trying to sell conservatives a bill of goods.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said that “the House is working to advance a balanced budget that will show our conservative vision and help us get back to regular order on appropriations bills. Members will continue to discuss the path ahead this week.”
The Heritage Foundation and its advocacy arm, Heritage Action for America, have won outsized influence on the House Republican conference. Lawmakers are eager to score highly on Heritage Action’s evaluation of their voting records; failing to do so could tempt conservative primary challengers.
Heritage certainly isn’t going to win any brownie points with GOP leadership with its new budget proposal. Ryan is asking Republicans to back a budget with $1.070 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2017; conservative lawmakers have argued for slicing off $30 billion, which would revert to sequester level spending rather than the deal worked out between Obama and former Speaker John Boehner. Heritage’s blueprint, meanwhile, calls for fully $80 billion in cuts. If that’s the gold standard for conservative budgeting, the skepticism Ryan faces is only likely to grow.
“We’re not just backing up the $990 billion number,” Winfree said. “We’re showing members of the House what they’d otherwise be supporting if they ended up supporting the 1070 [level].”
Recent House Republican budgets have proposed ending federal deficits within 10 years, a feat that critics say would require deep and painful cuts to popular government programs and services. The Heritage plan? It balances in an even speedier seven years — even with massive tax cuts and defense spending boosts.
Adopting some of Heritage’s proposals would put Republicans in a tough spot politically. Federal aid for disaster relief, education and scientific and energy research would be chopped by hundreds of millions of dollars. In what would surely be a controversial move, Heritage would eliminate grants to curb domestic violence under the Violence Against Women Act. Amtrak would ultimately lose its federal subsidies, likely ending the railroad service. Head Start, the federal pre-K program for low-income children, would see a 10 percent funding cut per year until being phased out entirely in 2026.
Some of Heritage’s proposals align with those that have previously been found in House Republicans’ budgets, including a call to repeal the president’s health care law and to transform Medicare into a premium support program.
But Heritage also goes much further, dramatically limiting Medicaid assistance and even touching the always politically sensitive Social Security. Heritage recommends increasing the eligibility age for benefits, reworking the cost-of-living adjustment formula and transitioning Social Security into a program that delivers benefits solely to those who need it to stay out of poverty. Heritage estimates these policies would generate approximately $500 billion in Social Security savings over a decade. It’s the kind of aggressive proposal that the Freedom Caucus might salivate over but that GOP leaders are likely to avoid, especially during an election year.
All told, Heritage boasts that over the next decade, its blueprint would cut taxes by $1.3 trillion, reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion and begin to bring down federal debt, all while boosting the Pentagon’s budget.
It’s a recipe that’s sure to delight conservatives — and put Ryan in an even tighter spot.
Jake Sherman and Lauren French contributed to this story.