Score another victory for the Tea Party.
As of Monday early afternoon, House Republicans were officially undecided as to whether they’d take on entitlements when they write the budget this year. Fiscal-hawk extraordinaire Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, danced around the issue in a meeting with reporters. After trashing Obama’s budget for its failure to include entitlement reform, Ryan refused to say whether he’d include it in his own. Little did he know that just as he was reluctantly deflecting the question, House majority leader Eric Cantor was dropping a bombshell in a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters elsewhere in the Capitol: Republicans, Cantor said, are all-in on entitlement reform.
The fast-moving decision is yet another sign of how fundamentally the GOP freshmen have changed the calculus on Capitol Hill. House aides tell NRO that after an internal flare-up with freshmen Republicans over spending levels for the remainder of this fiscal year — where the leadership ultimately sided with the freshmen to push to cut $100 billion — GOP leaders wanted to get ahead of President Obama on the budget issue.
The intention to push on entitlements is also a vindication of the vision of Paul Ryan, the once-embattled voice in the wilderness whose determination to reform entitlements has now been embraced fully by his leadership and his fellow House Republicans. Sources say Ryan was “thrilled” when he heard about Cantor’s remarks.
For many GOP freshmen, the decision reflects an urgency to seriously address the national-debt crisis, and an effort to make good on promises to the voters who elected them. “This is about leadership,” says Rep. Allen West (R., Fla.), a vocal member of the freshman class. “If we don’t deal with entitlements, then we are not serious. I am glad to see our leadership stepping up to the plate. They’re not backing away from the 99-miles-an-hour fastball. This really is about courage.”
Freshman representative Scott Tipton (R., Colo.) tells NRO that his class was itching to take on entitlements. But the fervor for bold policy, he says, is relatively recent. Once freshmen settled into office, many of them took hard looks at the budget. In order to get ahead of the Democrats, both fiscally and politically, his class wants to be the one to frame the debate, he says.
This year’s freshman class did not campaign aggressively on entitlement reform. Many of them did, however, campaign on a fierce commitment to balancing the federal budget, meaning they would never support a Republican budget that looked anything like the one proposed by the White House, which, an aide tells NRO, meant entitlements would have to be addressed.
The decision to move forward on entitlement reform wasn’t a direct reaction to the recent “revolt” over the $100 billion in spending cuts, but that fight was certainly on everyone’s mind. “The hundred-billion issue was a good reminder that putting forward a budget that fails to balance, ever, and does nothing to address the central challenges, did not have a chance in hell,” says one House aide. Of the freshmen, he adds, “These guys are serious, they don’t mess around.”
A senior GOP House aide tells NRO that the leadership is willing to move now on entitlements because the “will is there” in the conference. “We have the 218 votes needed to support entitlement reform,” he tells us. “While raising it now provides an important contrast, to be sure, we would not be bringing it up if we did not have the votes. We know the conference will back it if it’s included in the budget. The leadership knows they have to lead and there is no one better than Paul Ryan to take charge. The sense in the conference is, ‘let’s be serious.’”