Are budget negotiations helpful or a sellout? No surprise, GOP is split

GOP leader Rep. Tom Price explains why he wants to start negotiations with Senate Democrats over how to strike a budget deal. Tea partyers in the Senate are blocking talks.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Rep. Tom Price, vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, speaks to reporters in Washington Wednesday.

For weeks, a handful of deeply conservative Senate Republicans have blocked potential budget negotiations between the House and Senate, fearing that, behind closed doors, the two sides could agree to increase the federal debt ceiling.

But the No. 2 Republican on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, believes that Congress should get to work on a budget accord post-haste. A committee assembled to hash out differences between the budgets of the two chambers is, in fact, the perfect way to increase the nation’s borrowing limit and stave off another harrowing trip to the financial abyss, he said.

“If there is an opportunity, to come to a solution on the debt ceiling, the budget conference is the vehicle,” Representative Price told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday.

The difference between how House Republicans see a potential budget conference committee and how leading tea party lights in the Senate view it is simple, said Price, a leading conservative voice on budget and health matters, and a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the House’s largest and most conservative subgroup.

House Republicans are in the majority. Therefore, he said, their responsibility is actually to get things done.

It’s the “difference between a majority and a minority. The responsibility of the majority is to govern and to move in direction of solving challenges. The responsibility of the minority is to create a contrast and to hold the other side to account,” Price said. “The roles are different. That’s not to say they are right or wrong.”

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and Ted Cruz of Texas say that putting the debt ceiling into a “back room” negotiation is a surefire recipe for conservative principles to be sold out by the party leadership.

“Let me be clear: I don’t trust the Republicans. And I don’t trust the Democrats,” Senator Cruz said on the Senate floor last month. “And I think a whole lot of Americans likewise don’t trust the Republicans and the Democrats, because it is leadership in both parties that has gotten us in this mess.”

Price, on the other hand, sees the budget conference as an expeditious way to achieve key conservative goals.

He’d like significant reforms to entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid to be up for discussion, and he sees the conference as a great way to help the bipartisan drive for a sweeping reform of the tax code. As a bottom line, Price wants a return to the “Boehner Rule” of 2011, which called for each dollar of debt-ceiling increase to be offset by the same amount of debt reduction or spending cuts.

All three of those requirements are favorites among the congressional GOP’s most conservative clique.

But the Georgia Republican kept an open mind about what, exactly, could be in the budget negotiation because “we’re trying to be the ones moving the ball forward for solutions, and being wedded to just one [debt ceiling requirement] is not helpful to the discussion at this point.”

What would be helpful, Price stressed, was for House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington, to figure out what the parameters of the budget conference would be.

While Price wants the conference committee to get going as far away from the October or November debt-ceiling deadline as possible to avoid sending Washington back into “crisis mode,” he said, there are still issues that need to be worked out before such a conference committee could begin.

Price commended Senator Murray and Representative Ryan for continuing to meet with “great regularity” to determine just what, exactly, will be on the table in the budget negotiation.

“Going to conference requires some parameters,” Price said. “If it’s just a free-for-all, then it becomes more of an opportunity for the demagoguery and the partisan back-and-forth that won’t reach any solutions.”

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