Allyne Caan / December 17, 2015

Budgeting for a Republican President

Not a lot to like in the latest budget deal, but it’s a start.

When Paul Ryan succeeded John Boehner as speaker of the House, we hoped he wouldn’t turn out to be “Boehner Jr.” when it came to holding the conservative line against the Democrat minority. While many conservatives may be tempted to attribute the moniker to him in light of the latest budget, it’s important to remember that Barack Obama still holds the White House and Republicans are budgeting for the future — and a GOP president.

This week, Speaker Ryan unveiled a $1.1 trillion, 2,000-page spending and taxes package that can hardly be called a homerun for conservatives. In fact, it’s a steaming pile of Potomac sludge. The biggest caveat is that spending levels for the package had already been determined back in October by Boehner’s last hurrah. You’ll recall that Boehner, unable to get his own party on board, rounded up Democrat support to push through a budget deal increasing federal spending by $80 billion over the next two years.

While Ryan was constrained by Boehner’s parting gift, it’s what made it into Ryan’s plan — and what didn’t — that has some folks raising eyebrows.

In the Republican “win” column, the plan lifts the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. In exchange, however, Democrats secured a five-year extension of tax breaks for wind and solar energy producers.

Another win came on ObamaCare. The Wall Street Journal explains, “Crucially, they preserved the explicit legal language preventing a risk-corridor bailout of money-losing insurers on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. The medical device tax will be suspended for two years, and the insurance industry tax for a year, while the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans will start in 2020 instead of 2018.”

In a significant loss for conservatives, though, the package does not include restrictions on Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees (or, for all we know, 9,500 refugees and 500 terrorists; who’s counting — or vetting — anyway?). Instead, the bill focuses on reforming the visa waiver program, which allows individuals from approved countries travel to the U.S. without first obtaining a visa. The reform would prevent folks from visa-waiver countries from coming to the U.S. sans a visa if those individuals had previously traveled to known Islamic State hotspots, such as Iraq or Syria. This is a worthwhile reform to be sure, but it doesn’t even come close to addressing how the U.S. plans to separate terrorists from refugees here in the homeland. And “trust us” is not an acceptable response.

Another Republican loss is the intact federal funding for Planned Parenthood, though that leaves the Left with one fewer election lightning rods. And the package fails to cut funding for Obama’s executive overreach on immigration.

In fact, Democrats announced that they “beat back about 150 Republican riders” in the package. Absent, for example, are riders focusing on Dodd-Frank financial reform, environmental regulations, or the U.S.‘s new “normalized relations” policy with Cuba.

Defending the package, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong stated, “While not getting everything we wanted, the speaker noted that both packages include many provisions that Republicans have long fought for. The speaker noted that though there are significant wins in these packages, we must not repeat this process and instead get back to regular order in 2016.”

While this may be desirable to Republican Party wonks (we prefer the “animating contest of Freedom” espoused by Samuel Adams,) the losses are significant enough that the “let’s just move on” attitude has become Ryan’s primary sales pitch for the plan.

After Ryan spoke Tuesday with members of the House GOP conference, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI) remarked, “[Ryan] feels that it’s time to start fresh, that we increase our hand and we’ll have better negotiating position if we have a strong Republican vote this year.”

Of course, conservatives never trust the “let’s cave now so we can negotiate better later” approach.

Indeed, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, posed this very question: “I don’t understand that at all,” he said, “give the Democrats what they want now so next time they won’t want as much?”

Despite very valid concerns, Ryan’s plan will likely pass when put to a House vote this week. But don’t expect all conservatives to go along with it. The shadows of Boehner are, understandably, still too long. All that being said, the optimistic approach is to remember that it will take years to undo the damage Barack Obama has done, and a single budget while he’s still in the Oval Office isn’t going to be the final word.

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