Republican budget battle hinges on conservative group's tactics

A budget presented by President Obama on Tuesday has been pronounced “dead on arrival” in Congress, but a viable alternative hinges on whether Speaker Paul Ryan can heal a divide with the Freedom Caucus.

Ryan will meet with the caucus on Friday to discuss the House version of the budget.

“The number one question in the House (on the budget) is what is the relationship between the speaker and the Freedom Caucus,” Kenneth Gold, director of Georgetown University Government Affairs Institute, told AMI Newswire. “Because they can prevent him from moving forward on anything, unless he’s willing to go to the Democrats for votes.”

The caucus is a group of representatives - many of whom were elected into office at the height of the Tea Party movement around 2010 - that the Pew Research Foundation identified as being generally more right-leaning than their other Republican peers.

Gold said Ryan will need to make peace between the caucus and a two-year budget deal that was produced largely under the auspices of his predecessor, former Ohio Sen. John Boehner. Otherwise, he said, it’s likely the Caucus will shut down the appropriations process, in which the annual discretionary budgets for individual federal agencies are crafted.

“What I intend to do tomorrow is lay out all of the options … so that they can make a well-informed decision,” Ryan said at a press conference on Thursday. “This is the kind of leadership where we will make decisions together as part of a Republican conference.”

Gold said the Senate was unlikely to submit a budget proposal because of a rule that would bypass a filibuster and allow Democrats in the Senate to submit an “endless stream of amendments” that could force Republicans vulnerable in the fall election to take controversial votes.

There are more than 20 Republican seats in the Senate that are up for election in November, seven of which are in states Obama carried in 2012.

In an unprecedented move, Republicans on the House and Senate budget committees did not extend a traditional invitation for the president's delegate formally to present his budget proposal, blasting Obama last week in a joint statement for not doing enough to address the deficit.

“It appears the president’s final budget will continue to focus on new spending proposals instead of confronting our government’s massive overspending and debt,” said budget committee Chairman Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY). “Instead of hearing from an administration unconcerned with our $19 trillion in debt, we should focus on how to reform America’s broken budget process and restore the trust of hardworking taxpayers.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the $4.1 trillion budget would cause an initial spike in the deficit, from $438 billion last year to $616 billion for 2016, before dropping to lower levels. The CBO projected that annual deficits and total debt would increase from 2017 to 2025, mostly as a result of increases in Social Security and Medicare costs. The deficit projections, though, were lower than earlier projections that were made based on existing  spending plans.

"The budget shows that these investments in growth, opportunity and security are compatible with putting the nation’s finances on a strong and sustainable path," White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan told reporters in a press conference after the proposed budget's release. "It makes critical investments in our domestic and national security priorities while adhering to the bipartisan budget agreement that was signed into law last fall."

One of the more controversial methods the president used to achieve deficit reductions, while still expanding certain programs, was to propose a roughly $10-per-barrel tax on oil imported to the U.S., which his administration said would cause companies affected to “likely pass on some of these costs” to consumers. 
The money would be earmarked for public transportation projects.

Ryan estimated it would raise prices at the pump by 24 cents. 

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Ryan, a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, dismissed suggestions that the budget talks slated for February were anything out of the ordinary. He said he hopes to get a jump start on the April 15 deadline for Congress to submit a budget so as to set the stage for the difficult appropriations process in May, June and July.

“I feel very strongly about getting a real, working appropriation process so that we can reclaim the power of the purse,” Ryan said. “I've wanted to start this budget conversation as soon as we came back from Christmas break after the State of the Union (speech). I've wanted to start this before we even got the president's budget.”

Gold was less than optimistic about the Republican respond in light of last fall's budget agreement which he said required Boehner to “fall on his sword” to make happen. The latest actions speak to conservative discontent with the agreement, which when combined with a lame duck presidency, threatens even a Republican-led agreement on a budget moving forward.

“It doesn’t bode well for any kind of negotiations,” Gold added.