When it comes to this year’s budget debate, Republicans are united, and they are winning. At least for now.
On Thursday, House Republicans plan to pass a budget that reaches balance in ten years — decades sooner than previous efforts, and without additional tax increases — with near-unanimous GOP support. Shortly thereafter, they are likely to approve a continuing resolution that locks in federal spending at sequestration levels through September 30. President Obama will sign the continuing resolution, despite his objections and those of congressional Democrats. And Senate Democrats are poised to pass a budget for the first time in nearly four years, so the budget playing field has been leveled at last.
Not bad for a supposedly ragtag bunch — fresh off a demoralizing 2012 defeat, no less — that controls only a third of the federal government.
“When Republicans are unified around conservative principles, we have proven that we can move the White House and the Senate in our direction,” Representative Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) said Wednesday during a forum of conservative members on Capitol Hill. “Just look at what’s happened in the last three months.”
Even Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.), a vocal critic of House leadership who was thrown off the budget committee last year after voting against Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) proposal, concedes that conservatives “are making progress” in moving the GOP conference to the right. He said he’d be a yes this time around.
Perhaps most surprisingly, this progress has all come more or less according to plan, part of a long-term strategy that was hatched months ago at the GOP conference retreat in Williamsburg, Va., where members agreed to postpone a fight over the debt ceiling until after a series of smaller battles — over sequestration, the continuing resolution, and the congressional budget — could be fought. As a result of that agreement, which was crafted by a coalition of leading conservatives, Senate Democrats were forced to pass a budget resolution, and House leadership presented a balanced budget.
Representative Mick Mulvaney (R., S.C.) noted that although conservatives “took some heat” for agreeing to delay the debt-ceiling fight, the decision has paid off. “We did it to have the exact debate that we are having right now,” he said. “The Senate was forced to pass a budget, and now we’re having a discussion on a level playing field.”
Republicans are confident the American people will prefer their vision to the one offered by Senate Democrats, which the Washington Post recently described as “complacent.” When the latter proposal was brought to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday, 35 Democrats voted no. “Ours balances and doesn’t raise taxes. Theirs raises taxes and never balances,” Mulvaney said. “You could not have a better and sharper contrast.” Recent polling suggests voters may be inclined to agree.
The GOP’s unity on the Ryan budget notwithstanding, there is a sizeable faction that would prefer an even more aggressive approach. The conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) introduced a budget that would reach balance in four years, and enact far more aggressive reforms to entitlement programs. That budget failed in the House on Wednesday; Republicans split 119–120 after nearly every Democrat voted “present,” a cagey move that forced more GOP members to vote no.
Mulvaney was quick to dismiss the notion that the competing proposals were a sign of division within the party. “We offer the RSC budget, and conservatives vote for it, other folks don’t, then we rally around the committee budget. That’s how it works,” he said, noting that House Democrats offered multiple budget proposals as well. “I don’t think just because you offer alternative budgets, slightly alternative visions, different ideas, that represents a schism.”