Conservatives concerned about blowing through spending caps in budget deal

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Behind the scenes, some conservatives on Capitol Hill are concerned that they’re not going to like the soon-to-be announced budget deal being hammered out by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Reports coming out of the secret budget negotiations between Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray — the budget chiefs in the House and Senate — indicate that a deal to prevent another government shutdown would blow through spending caps and set next year’s discretionary spending at more than $1 trillion instead of the $967 billion mandated under law.

While many conservatives have praised the new spending caps — known as sequestration — for actually cutting spending, Democrats have been calling for replacing the cuts and have made that a staple of these budget negotiations.

The proposed deal, which would fund the government past Jan. 15, would get rid of some sequester cuts and fund them with so-called revenue enhancements, according to reports. The Washington Post reports that the deal could include “cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation’s airline passengers.”

By getting rid of these spending cuts, some conservatives see the proposed deal as an example of lawmakers’ insatiable desire for the government to keep spending more money, instead of working to cut government.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told The Daily Caller in a statement Monday that he cannot support a deal like this.

“There is a recurring theme in Washington budget negotiations,” Paul said. “It’s ‘I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.’ I think it’s a huge mistake to trade sequester cuts now, for the promise of cuts later. I cannot support a budget that never balances nor can I support a deal that does nothing to reduce our nation’s $17.3 trillion debt.”

One prominent conservative group said Monday they can’t support it either. Referring to reports that the deal is unlikely to contain any reforms to entitlements, Heritage Action said in a statement that they “cannot support a budget deal that would increase spending in the near-term for promises of woefully inadequate long-term reductions.”

“While imperfect, the sequester has proven to be an effective tool in forcing Congress to reduce discretionary spending, and a gimmicky, spend-now-cut-later deal will take our nation in the wrong direction,” the group said.

Spokesmen for several other conservative lawmakers told TheDC on Monday that they were waiting to see the details of the deal before taking any position on it. “He wants to see the actual details before commenting specifically on any deal,” said John Hart, a spokesman for Republican fiscal hawk Sen. Tom Coburn.

Coburn suggested last week that he is against doing away with the sequester caps.

“As budget negotiators continue to meet, I have been especially disappointed to hear some House Republicans make the case for violating the spending caps,” the senator said, calling for consolidation of government programs.

Other conservative groups that could plausibly mobilize against a deal are also waiting to see the details before saying anything. “For now, we’re just waiting to see if there will even be a deal,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club for Growth.

But the view among some conservatives on the Hill is that a deal could happen as soon as Tuesday and conservatives won’t like it.

Some Republicans are already calling for a vote in the House on what they call a “clean” continuing resolution to authorize the government to spend at the $967 billion sequester level established by the Budget Control Act.

The effort is being spearheaded by Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

“The Budget Control Act is the law of the land,” the Republicans write in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “Our Democrat colleagues are now threatening to shut the government down in order to change that. We should not permit that to happen.”

A spokesman for Scalise stressed to TheDC that the letter is “not an effort to undermine whatever Ryan is working on” but “simply expresses the members’ belief that a clean CR should be a backstop that’s used to avoid a shutdown.”

It’s not yet clear how much conservatives will mobilize against the deal. Questions being asked include whether it will enrage the conservative grassroots and whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has expressed support for keeping sequester levels during the budget negotiations, would even support it.

“I wish the budget conference well, but I do hope that at the end of the day we’ll support the Budget Control Act,” McConnell said last month. “It’s the law of the land.”

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