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House Conservatives Head Toward Another Budget Showdown

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/02/2016 Matt Fuller
ATHENA IMAGE © Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) has his optimism. He just might not have the votes. At least, not yet. 

Price is preparing a plan for his GOP colleagues that would keep the current 2017 spending costs at $1.07 trillion in the upcoming budget blueprint and simultaneously arranging for show-votes to cut money from other programs.

He told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that nothing is finalized because "it's a constellation of things we're talking about, it's not just the number." However, he expressed confidence that Republicans would find agreement on the budget.

But that plan, which Price and Republican leaders are supposed to lay out to members in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, doesn't seem to be doing it for conservatives, particularly the ones in the House Freedom Caucus.

"Words for offset versus action for offset is probably the fundamental question," said HFC board member Mark Meadows late Tuesday night after the Freedom Caucus held their weekly meeting in a Capitol Hill restaurant. "If it's just words only, with a hope and a promise of something happening during reconciliation, then it's a non-starter."

At issue is an additional $30 billion that was added to the 2017 budget in October. Conservatives say the least Republicans can do is revert back to the lower 2017 spending number Democrats and Republicans agreed to in 2011. House GOP leadership says there aren't the votes in their own conference to adopt a budget at the lower number -- and a deal is a deal, even if it was struck as one of the last acts of former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

GOP leaders argue that adopting a budget at the agreed upon level would allow Republicans to move forward with the appropriations process, where they could pass spending bills with conservative policies and get back to a more regular legislative process, rather than the slapdash lawmaking done at last-minute deadlines.

But conservatives just don't seem willing to swallow a $30 billion budget plus-up in exchange for doing appropriations bills -- or, more specifically, having to vote for a $30 billion plus-up in exchange for the hope that Congress does appropriations bills.

"Trust is a series of promises kept, " said HFC member Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.). "There's not much trust."

They can have votes until the cows come home. I'm not going to vote for those numbers. HFC member Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.)

Gosar continued that Republicans have heard these assurances of doing spending bills. "And then we see a whitewash at the end of the year with no riders and all the appropriations amendments go by the wayside," he said. "So tell me why I need to trust that?"

Conservatives note the national climate. Four Freedom Caucus members brought up Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Tuesday without prompting. And they highlighted recent projections from the Congressional Budget Office that show budget deficits only getting worse.

"We're sitting here arguing about shiny objects when it's on fire around us," HFC member David Schweikert, R-Ariz., told HuffPost, referring to a $19 trillion debt.

And if Republicans don't intend to actually produce legislation that can pass, even get enacted into law, there seems to be a critical mass of conservatives unwilling to go along with the plan. 

"They can have votes until the cows come home. I'm not going to vote for those numbers," HFC member Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said. "Not unless something earth-shattering happens,  if we did some big entitlement reform that we passed and the president signed into law. There are what-ifs, they're just not real likely."

And that's a real problem for GOP leadership. 

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has done his best to win over the Freedom Caucus, meeting with them late at night to hear their concerns. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) even sat down with the caucus Tuesday to "kiss the ring," according to one member present.

McConnell had come to them, assembling in the office of Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) -- though the gathering was more about McConnell's effort to repeal limits on how much parties can spend on candidates and to discuss Senate Republicans' attempts to block a Supreme Court nominee.

Either way, conservatives have shown they hold considerable sway over the House and Senate. And the budget, which appears to be in serious danger of never getting a vote, is becoming just the latest example of their influence.

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