House Republicans vow to close ranks, support budget plan

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2015 1:51 PM

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With defense and deficit hawks still eyeing each other warily over the federal budget, House Republican leaders predicted on Tuesday that their fractious caucus would close ranks and support a 10-year balanced-budget plan.

Some Republican lawmakers want more military spending, while others focus on keeping the budget deficit under control. To overcome these differences, leaders will give lawmakers a choice of plans to vote on in the hope that one will pass.

Beginning on Wednesday, the House of Representatives was expected to begin voting on a range of differing budget blueprints, including three from Republicans who now control both chambers of Congress. These call for deep cuts to social safety net programs.

Whatever emerges from the Republicans' votes has little to no chance of actually becoming law, but it will help Republican efforts to show they can work together and govern.

The Senate also launched debate on its Republican-authored budget on Tuesday, passing non-binding amendments to look for savings to aid veterans and shield children and the disabled from cuts to the Medicaid health care program for the poor.

Senate Republicans put President Barack Obama's budget plan to a vote, but it was rejected 98-1. All but one Democrat voted no to protest what they called a stunt.

Representative Steve Scalise, the third-ranking House Republican, responsible for securing votes, said the party was "coming together" to support a budget in the House.

Deficit hawks insist that "sequester" statutory spending caps be maintained and that additional funding for off-budget war operations be offset with alternate savings.

More than 70 House Republicans, however, want the Republican budget to meet or exceed the overall defense request made by Democratic President Barack Obama.

The floor strategy for the budget will give Republicans a chance to vote for two versions of House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price's plan. One would add $36 billion to an off-budget war account while requiring an effort to find alternate savings. The other would add $38 billion with no offsets.

Both versions propose to cut domestic spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, with deep cuts to social programs.

Representative Mo Brooks, a conservative Republican from Alabama, said he would support the larger amount for war funding even without offsets.

"It doesn't do any good to be financially responsible if you're dead, so I'm going to vote for it to protect national security," Brooks said.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Andre Grenon and Cynthia Osterman)