When Newt Gingrich criticized House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal in May, a who’s who of conservative, tea party and Republican leaders, including many in Congress, told him to “get back on board with what we’re trying to do.” Conservative-leading pundits said Newt was “not a serious person” and was “underm[ing]” conservative efforts.
Fast forward just four months later, and many of those same people are walking away from Paul Ryan’s budget, which they “fully support[ed]” and claimed “set the bar in terms of the kind of targets that we need to meet.”
Later this week, the House will attempt to pass a continuing resolution (CR), which would fund the government through November 18. This is nothing new. Americans have become accustomed to hearing acronyms like “CR” and words like “omnibus” because Congress has not passed all the appropriations bills individually since 1994. That, in and of itself, is a significant problem, but the immediate problem is that this CR is exceeds the “targets” laid out in the Ryan budget. August’s debt deal set a discretionary spending cap of $1.043 trillion for fiscal year 2012; whereas the Ryan budget was set at $1.019 trillion.
In a letter to their leadership, Representatives Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Tom Graves (R-GA) and Cynthia Lumis (R-WY) said violating their own budget to the tune of $24 billion would send “a clear message that Washington continues to be tone deaf when it comes to federal spending.”
Press reports suggested Republican leaders were considering the lower numbers called for in the House-passed Ryan budget. Sticking to those numbers, which were “fully support[ed]” just several months ago, would have saved taxpayers roughly $3 billion over the next month-and-a-half. Ultimately, they decided it wasn’t worth the legislative fight. An unnamed aide suggested, “with the public having more confidence in Obama than in Republicans, it is critical for the GOP to find common ground with Democrats and move on.”
Unfortunately, walking away from the Ryan budget is not new. Last week, the House abandoned the Ryan numbers when they passed yet another extension of highway and air transportation programs. Short-term extensions, as opposed to full reauthorizations, have become the norm in Congress. It is the 8th and 22nd extension, respectively, for highways and air programs. Again, a significant problem in and of itself, but the more immediate problem was the extension has exceeded the fully supported targets laid out in the Ryan budget. At an annualized level, the transportation funding comes in at $41 billion, compared to the $27 billion in the Ryan budget. The difference over six months is roughly $7 billion.
On the House floor, Mr. Ryan expressed “serious reservations” with the legislation. In addition to ignoring the Ryan budget numbers, the extension of the highway programs continued to spend funds on programs that should not be funded – like the mandatory 10% spending beautification projects – and it missed an opportunity to provide states flexibility in how they spend on transportation. To make matters worse, no official budget score was available from the Congressional Budget Office.
And for those reasons, conservative members of Congress were planning to vote against the bill, which was drafted behind closed doors and was being considered “under suspension” to avoid amendments. Unfortunately, they were not given that opportunity to cast a vote as the bill manager, despite an apparent pledge to the contrary, did not request a roll call vote. (Interestingly, later that afternoon, the bill manager requested a roll call vote on a charter school bill that passed 365-54.) In an official statement for the record, Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) said he “was appalled by the procedure the House used in passing this bill.
Conservatives inside Washington – and more importantly those outside Washington – were ready to stand up and defend the Ryan budget against attacks from President Obama and big-government interest groups. Armed with facts, they were ready to fight for the sort of bold changes our country needs. Instead, the House walking away from a unifying budget, without so much as a fight with President Obama and obstinate Senate Democrats.
Walking away from the Ryan budget is a lose-lose-lose. Reckless spending continues. A dangerous precedent has been set. Conservatives are disheartened.