Allyne Caan / March 17, 2016

Why Are Voters Mad? Look at the Budget.

Republicans wrangle over spending yet again.

If you’re still scratching your head wondering the reason for the political circus characterizing this election season, look no further than Congress. In a budget showdown pitting former House Speaker John Boehner’s “how fast can I cave” legacy against a small but influential group of true conservatives, House Republican leadership is reminding Americans why they hate Washington.

It all started last October, when Boehner made a deal with Barack Obama to increase federal discretionary spending by $80 billion over two years. The $1.07 trillion framework was $30 billion more than the limits set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Who needs limits when you can ignore them?

Despite criticizing the process, incoming Speaker Paul Ryan, whom many hoped would not follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, supported Boehner’s deal, just to get old business off the table and start afresh. Still, the deal was so unpopular among Republicans that Democrats provided most of the 266 “yes” votes, and 168 Republicans voted “no.”

Fast-forward to the present, and Republican leadership is trying to cajole its rank and file to approve the budget plan based on this framework. Announced Tuesday by the House Budget Committee, the plan would purportedly cut federal spending by $6.5 trillion over 10 years and balance the budget in that same timeframe. But in Fiscal Year 2017, discretionary spending would still reach that over-the-limit $1.07 trillion.

“I commend Chairman Price for passing a responsible, conservative budget that cuts the deficit by $7 trillion and balances within a decade — all without raising taxes,” Ryan said in a statement. “This blueprint also repeals Obamacare, shrinks the EPA, improves Medicare and Medicaid, strengthens our military, and calls for tax reform. It represents our vision for a smaller government and healthier economy, and it’s a document that can make all conservatives proud.”

But are all conservatives proud?

In an effort to gain support from conservative members, the budget plan requires that the House vote this year on a $30 billion cut in mandatory spending over two years. You know, the all too familiar “let’s raise it now but cut it later” pitch — wink, wink. Recognizing the value of Washington promises, some conservatives in the House are having none of it. The House Freedom Caucus — an invitation-only group of about 40 members dedicated to pushing Republican leadership to enact truly conservative policies — released a statement this week, saying, “As a group, we have decided that we cannot support the current budget.”

And the larger Republican Study Committee (RSC), which shares some members with the Freedom Caucus, also wants the extra $30 billion out of any budget.

The RSC introduced its own budget framework that would cut spending by $8.6 trillion over 10 years and balance the budget in eight years.

All of this leaves Republican House leadership in quite the pickle. On Wednesday, the House Budget Committee approved the GOP budget by a 20-16 vote. But without Freedom Caucus votes — and possibly without many additional RSC votes — Republicans lack the majority needed to pass the bill in the full House. This means they will need to rely on Democrats if they want to push the budget through. And the more Democrats needed to pass a Republican bill, the more leverage Democrats have for their priorities — and, conversely, the less leverage Republicans have.

Last month, Ryan basically told Members the only way to deliver a budget the Senate won’t block is to follow the Boehner-Obama plan. Once again, the classic claim that the only way we can get anything done is to go along with higher Democrat spending.

Given the latest developments, one can only wonder if Ryan wishes he hadn’t been so quick to jump on the Boehner bandwagon last fall.

It’s hardly surprising so many Americans are fed up with the political status quo. It’s not that there aren’t staunch conservatives in Congress — it’s that there aren’t yet enough of them. On top of that, we need a limited-government conservative in the White House. Until then, what Republicans can accomplish is limited.

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