House Republicans head into votes Wednesday night prepared put their differences aside and rally behind the GOP's latest budget proposal.
Conservatives, including tea party-backed members, worried that the budget didn’t go far enough, and with elections looming this fall, they saw the budget as their last chance to satisfy voters who gave Republicans back control of the House in 2010.
But key members of House's largest conservative caucus, the Republican Study Committee (RSC), agreed to back the budget plan House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin because they feel they had helped prod it far enough to the right.
For example, they worked to include in the budget a plan to pare back government outlays beyond the level agreed to in last summer's debt-ceiling accord; to mandate reductions in welfare spending; and to combine Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance program to save more than $800 billion over 10 years.
In the end, the bill will be dead on arrival in the Democratic-held Senate, but Republicans say passing their own budget sends an important message for the election.
For example, where Ryan’s budget proposes $1.028 trillion in discretionary spending – that's $19 billion less than the $1.047 trillion cap set in 2011 debt-limit legislation – the RSC budget cuts discretionary spending back to $931 billion.
In effect, that means that, despite the cuts, the Ryan budget still grows discretionary spending compared with fiscal year 2011 levels, while the RSC’s budget would roll spending back to FY 2008 levels.
“It’s hard to go home to the American people in my district and say, 'Hey, we made some changes here,' and they say ‘Well, I looked at the budget, and it's bigger than it was last year,’” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas, who opposes the Ryan plan. “So there’s a real credibility issue if we’re going to follow through on the Ryan budget.”
Tea party sympathizers, rallying around Capitol Hill on Tuesday in opposition to President Obama’s health-care law, agreed that their 2010 revolution has not brought the desired results. In interviews, many said they weren’t seeing enough follow-through on lawmakers' promises like the 2010 Pledge to America, a GOP campaign document that aimed to slash $100 billion from the spending for the balance of FY 2011. Congress managed a $39 billion reduction, mostly by punting spending reductions to future years.
Some tea party-backed House members “seem to have been, I guess for a word, co-opted, into the old Republican mentality which is not significantly different than the Democrats’ mentality,” says Charles Grose, a member of the Berks County Patriots in Redding, Penn. "They’re both going where I don’t want to be.”
"They need to stand more to conservative principles and not think that’s so much [about] compromising because I think the compromising weighs down the conservative message,” adds Darlene Resnick of Timonium, Md., who first got engaged in politics at a tea party rally in Washington in 2009.
Ms. Resnick’s harder-line preference is one that many conservative members of Congress say they understand.
“We have spent over a year now in the majority, most of the time trying to hit a [budget] target that we thought might be a level the Senate would [accept],” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas, in comments to reporters last week. “That’s not who we are. Who we are is we are supposed to pass what we believe in and let the Senate pass what they believe in and it goes to conference. At the next election, we say, ‘Here’s what we believe in, here’s what they believe in, who do you want in charge?’”
Not all House conservatives or tea party-backed freshmen are nervously chomping their nails over voter reaction to their efforts for fiscal restraint. On the budget, Representative Goemert’s prescription is exactly what some conservative freshmen say they’ve done.
“I feel that we’ve done about as much as we can," says freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R) of South Carolina. "Keep in mind, the freshman class is not any more conservative than the overall conference."
Moreover, the fact that conservatives were able to pull the House budget resolution to the right gives lawmakers like Congressman Mulvaney something to take back to constituents.
“The simple fact that a small group of conservatives in the freshman class, along with some of the folk who have been here a while, have been able to move the needle a little bit to the right – I’m happy with that,” Mulvaney says. “We’ve moved it a good bit, especially in this last budget, and I think that’s a success.”
Sympathy for Mulvaney’s point of view was evident among tea party activists on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
"The [members] we put in there from the tea party are trying to do the right thing,” said Bill Bullers, a retiree from Johnsonburg, Pa. “But they’re still outnumbered. We’re still going to try to change it again this year.”
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