Here we go again.
House Speaker John Boehner is having trouble corralling his own House Republicans – this time to pass a budget.
Boehner is mediating a fight between defense hawks who want more Pentagon money in the budget resolution and fiscal hawks who argue it’s time to rein in spending across all government agencies.
The blow up caused House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price to stop a late-night committee meeting on Wednesday to try to work out a compromise. Instructed by top House GOP leaders, Price tried to boost defense spending levels in his plan, but conservatives on the panel refused to go along. The committee was forced to set aside the issue, but finally approved its plan Thursday morning without adding any more defense money.
The speaker stepped in Thursday morning and said more money would be added for defense before the bill reached the House floor. He announced at his weekly press conference on Thursday that he’ll use the Rules committee – the panel stacked with Republicans loyal to him – to change the budget.
“There is overwhelming support in our conference for providing additional resources to protect our national security,” Boehner told reporters.
It’s a matter of math for Boehner. Democrats will all oppose the Republican budget because it rolls back Obamacare and cuts other domestic programs. The speaker can only afford to lose more than a couple of dozen of his own members.
Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, an influential member of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Boehner last month signed by 70 House GOP members saying they would not vote for a budget that didn’t have a minimum defense spending level of $561 billion – the level requested in President Barack Obama’s budget.
The problem for Price as budget chair was that the Budget Control Act that passed in 2011 established firm caps for defense and non-defense accounts – and the defense level by law was set at $523 billion. Price attempted to address the concerns of those wanting more Pentagon money by adding tens of billions to the “Overseas Contingency Operations” account, which doesn’t count as part of the base budget. But many members complained there were no guarantees the money would actually be available because it had to be offset with cuts in other places.
Arizona Rep. Trent Franks predicted the move means the budget will pass next week and praised leaders for the “creative” solution to thread the needle between two competing camps in the GOP conference.
“I won’t call it political gymnastics, but it certainly could be called parliamentary contortionism,” Franks told reporters.
Several House GOP leadership aides told CNN they believed the change will get them the needed votes to get the budget through next week. They acknowledge they will lose conservatives who will insist new money needs to be offset with more cuts, but without Turner and his allies on board they admit they couldn’t move forward.
Senate Republicans have already criticized the maneuver as a “gimmick” so it may be tough to reconcile the House budget with the version introduced by the Senate this week.
In practical terms the budget doesn’t have the force of law – it sets overall government funding levels, but spending committees can continue their work even if a budget isn’t adopted.
But failure to pass a budget for Boehner would be a disaster, especially after a series of high-profile internal fights that have prevented his legislative agenda from moving forward.
“We’ve already had some pretty embarrassing situations, but I think not being able to pass a Republican budget on the floor would be the granddaddy of them all,” Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon told reporters.