- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Republican leaders have agreed to stick to the higher spending levels President Obama is seeking as House Republicans released a $1.07 trillion blueprint Tuesday that is already spurring a feverish backlash among conservatives.

Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, Georgia Republican, said the budget is more conservative in future years, imposing limits on ballooning Medicaid spending, shifting control of the food stamp program to states and forcing major changes to Medicare.

But conservatives say the 2017 discretionary spending number is too high and Republicans should have fought to cut some $30 billion from the plan.

The fight is shaping up as the next big test for newly minted House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who said he is intent on passing a budget and is aware of a rebellion among some in his party.

He promised to listen to their concerns as the process moves forward.

“And at the end of the day, the decision will be made by all of the members of the Republican conference. And we want to work together to get this done, but it’s going to be a decision left up to our members,” Mr. Ryan said.

The speaker is trying to turn the page from the past few years, when Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and his lieutenants often scrambled for votes to approve eleventh-hour spending deals.

But the House Freedom Caucus, a group of some 40 conservative lawmakers, said Mr. Ryan has run afoul of his pledge by sticking to the higher spending limit in a deal Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama reached in October.

“As a group, we have decided that we cannot support the current budget at the $1.07 trillion level for discretionary spending,” the caucus said in a statement.

If all of the members of the Freedom Caucus vote against the budget, it will be the biggest defection since Republicans took control of the House in 2011.

Conservatives said the House should have cut spending to $1.04 trillion in 2017 — the level it should have been under the 2011 budget deal. But Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama last year rewrote that deal, adding tens of billions of dollars more in 2016 and 2017.

Mr. Price has tried to accommodate conservatives, including language in his blueprint that would try to find some $30 billion in cuts to automatic spending programs.

The budget’s first test will be Wednesday as Mr. Price tries to push his bill through the Budget Committee.

Rep. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Republican, said he will vote to advance the bill through the committee but will fight it on the House floor. He called the battle a “test of wills” between defense and deficit hawks, both of whom, he said, have legitimate concerns.

He questioned, though, how Congress would be able to tackle broader challenges such as entitlement reform if members can’t hold the line on the $30 billion difference.

“It’s not so much the significance of the 30 numerically; it’s the significance of the 30 for what it foretells,” Mr. Sanford said.

The budget is nonbinding, but it serves as an outline Congress follows as it writes the dozen annual spending bills that fund most basic operations of government. Congress didn’t even pass a budget from 2010 through 2014 and relied instead on deals such as the 2011 debt agreement and October’s debt deal to set spending limits.

Senate Republican leaders have said they will spend the full $1.07 trillion allowed under that latest debt deal, meaning that even if House Republicans use a lower number, they will have to hash it out.

Mr. Ryan can’t count on Democrats for support for the new blueprint.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat and ranking member on the Budget Committee, said the Republican plan appears to hew to the campaign pledges of the party’s presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“We’d been told that Speaker Ryan and Republicans in Congress were going to try to provide a counternarrative, that they were going to put forward a positive vision of Republican policies,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “But in fact, if you look at this budget, this is a budget that also divides America.”

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, meanwhile, unveiled its own budget plan Tuesday that calls for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending and $765 million in aid for Flint, Michigan, in the wake of the city’s water crisis, among other provisions.

Mr. Obama unveiled his own $4.1 trillion blueprint last month that included spending increases and a $10-a-barrel fee on oil for clean energy initiatives, among other items. The plan was summarily rejected by Republicans, who already agreed with the administration last year on the spending boost this year.

Mr. Ryan has blamed the October debt deal, and the December spending bill that followed it, on Mr. Boehner.

But responsibility for this budget rests squarely on Mr. Ryan, and Mr. Sanford said he would need “Solomon’s wisdom” to navigate the fight.

“I mean, he’s really strung out in the middle, and I empathize with him,” Mr. Sanford said. “I mean, that’s a tough spot to be. I think he’s done as good a job as one can do.”

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