In 2011, all but four House Republicans supported the budget authored by Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. But this year, that level of party unity appeared endangered—indeed, even passage of the budget on the floor appeared problematic--when, on Wednesday night, two members of Ryan's own committee who voted for the budget last year—Justin Amash of Michigan and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas—voted against it. In addition to Amash and Huelskamp, at least a handful of other conservative congressmen said this week they were not sure if they'll vote for the Ryan budget this time around because, they say, it doesn’t cut enough spending.
This complaint from conservatives is somewhat surprising considering this year’s budget cuts more than last year’s budget. The reason some conservatives are objecting to the Ryan budget this year is not because of changes to the budget but because circumstances have changed. “I think what you saw over the past year was that frustration built that we could not get all these spending cuts into law,” one aide to a conservative GOP congressman tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. “It’s certainly possible that you could see a larger number of people doing what Amash and Huelskamp did.”
Although there will be more defections on the House budget this year than last, any concern about a full-scale revolt on the right seemed to be quelled when the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Jim Jordan, announced on Thursday that he would be voting for the Ryan budget again this year. A number of other RSC members who bucked House leadership on spending compromises in 2011 are also supporting Ryan's budget. The Hill reports that Steve King (Iowa), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Connie Mack (Fla.), and Mick Mulvaney and Trey Gowdy of South Carolina are all likely on board. Tom McClintock (Calif.) and Tom Graves (Ga.) will vote for the Ryan budget, their aides tell TWS.
But others remain undecided. “I’m going to have a lot harder time being talked into voting for the Ryan budget,” Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "I have not decided whether I’m going to vote for it or not," says Raul Labrador of Idaho. Both Gohmert and Labrador say they had reservations last year that Ryan’s budget cut too little and were disheartened by spending compromises with Democrats throughout 2011.
Although circumstances may have changed, the Ryan budget itself remains very similar to last year’s fiscal blueprint. Last year Ryan proposed capping discretionary spending in FY2013 at $1.028 trillion, and this year Ryan proposes capping FY2013 discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion. Those criticizing the Ryan budget from the right, such as the Club for Growth, Huelskamp, and Amash, claim that the budget reneges on automatic cuts scheduled under the Budget Control Act (the result of the 2011 debt-limit deal).
But Ryan responds that he stopped the automatic defense cuts and compensated for it by cutting other mandatory programs below what last year’s budget proposed. “As a factual matter, The Path to Prosperity does not waive the sequester,” Conor Sweeney wrote in an email to National Review Online on Wednesday. “Washington will not be given a free pass on achieving the savings called for under the Budget Control Act (BCA), but we must reprioritize sequester savings to prevent devastating cuts to defense and instead reduce lower-priority spending elsewhere in the budget.”
Though the budget incorporates elements of a bipartisan Medicare reform Ryan developed with Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, those changes aren't an issue for conservatives in Congress. Some Republicans say a major point of contention is that they think Ryan's plan takes too long to produce a balanced budget.
"According to CBO," Rep. Amash said in a statement, "the budget won't reach balance until nearly 2040," That's true, But CBO made the same prediction for last year's budget, which Amash supported. The House Budget Committee released a paper on Thursday showing that the budget could reach balance much sooner than predicted by the CBO if tax reform generates higher economic growth and tax revenues—something CBO doesn’t consider. Labrador of Idaho said such an analysis would encourage him to vote for the budget.
One of the stranger complaints about the Ryan budget came from Rep. Huelskamp, who objected that the budget outlines tax reform but doesn’t propose a specific plan to implement the reform (just as it did last year). But a budget can’t write tax law—that falls under the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. Huelskamp did not respond to multiple interview requests Thursday.
As for outside conservative groups, the Club for Growth, which was neutral on the Ryan budget last year, came out against the Ryan budget this year. The organization is now insisting on the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan, but it will not be scoring votes on the Ryan budget. Other conservative organizations, such as Heritage Action and Americans for Tax Reform, continue to support the Ryan budget.
In the end, it’s unlikely that conservative Republicans would want to sink Ryan’s budget—not only because they’d be seen as flip-floppers but because they genuinely admire Ryan and the work he’s done. “Paul Ryan is a man of his word,” says Gohmert of Texas. Both Amash of Michigan and Huelskamp of Kansas praised Ryan in their statements explaining their votes against the Ryan budget. "I think he's done a great job,” says Labrador of Idaho. “I mean he listens to the members. He's very knowledgeable, and he's very helpful in the ways he works with us."