Congressional Republicans taking their cues from Donald Trump

Story highlights

  • Trump has called last year's budget deal an "absolute disaster," and House Republicans say they are constantly faced with questions at home about their vows to shrink government
  • Speaker Paul Ryan wants to get started on a new budget agreement, but conservatives are worried about what that might mean for them

Washington (CNN)Donald Trump's anti-Washington tirades have captivated GOP voters on the presidential campaign trail.

Congressional Republicans are listening as well, especially when it comes to the budget deal Congress reached with the White House last year.
Trump has repeatedly railed against the bipartisan budget deal. He called it an "absolute disaster" in his New Hampshire victory speech last week, and House Republicans say they are constantly faced with questions at home about their vows to shrink government.
    "We haven't done a good job of painting a vision," Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk told reporters Friday. "I think we're doing a better job now, we're getting to that point, but as you can see through the presidential election people are frustrated, they are angry and they don't trust Washington because there's been a lot of promises that haven't been kept."
    The mood on the trail is making things difficult for House Speaker Paul Ryan and his efforts to unite Republicans around a budget blueprint for next year, something he hoped would lay the groundwork for cooperation between a GOP Congress and President in 2017.
    The speaker gathered House Republicans together in the basement of the Capitol on Friday morning to try to get consensus on an approach, but conservative resistance could cause GOP leaders to decide not to pass a budget at all. For Ryan, a former Budget Committee Chairman, that would be embarrassing and give Democrats an opening to criticize Republican control of Congress in an election year.
    Many conservatives are pushing Ryan and his leadership team to slash another $30 billion from the topline budget deal -- $1.071 trillion -- set by a two-year budget deal negotiated by Ryan's predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner. On that vote 167 Republicans opposed the deal, and many are bristling at the effort now to use that budget as the baseline for the annual spending bills funding federal agencies.
    Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador lambasted reporters on Wednesday for paying too much attention to Donald Trump's candidacy. Then, he cited the billionaire businessman's appeal as proof that Republicans need to stand firm.
    "There is only one reason that Donald Trump won a huge number of votes on Tuesday -- it's because the American people don't trust the Republican Party, that we won't do the things that we said we are going to do," Labrador said, and joked that his own leaders might want to read Trump's book, "The Art of the Deal."
    "I think the fact that Donald Trump mentioned the budget in his acceptance speech in New Hampshire was very concerning to a number of us," North Carolina Rep, Mark Meadows told CNN.
    Meadows, Loudermilk and Labrador belong to the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives still pushing for more significant spending cuts to domestic programs. The group doesn't uniformly oppose the speaker's approach on the budget, however. Meadows, for instance, said he is trying to find a way to support Ryan's efforts to move through a GOP plan but one that would also contrast with Democrats on entitlement programs.

    Business as usual?

    Other lawmakers downplayed the internal fight on the fiscal plan as an annual event, not necessarily a reaction to the 2016 campaign.
    "There have been fights on the budget long before anybody could pronounce the words Donald and Trump consecutively," Kansas GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo said.
    House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price told reporters he was moving ahead with his plan to move a budget through his committee later this month and aim for a House floor vote in March.
    "We'll get a budget," Price said, brushing aside questions about divisions, saying "budgets are always a big challenge and this is no different."
    Ryan used a slide presentation to outline the options for going forward in the meeting on Friday. He said House Republicans could cut the additional money many on the right are demanding, or add some additional money for defense programs, which defense hawks are pushing. But in both cases the speaker said the result would be the same -- the effort would be blocked in the Senate, where Democrats will filibuster spending bills and the GOP would be forced to pass a massive year-end continuing resolution.
    By doing that Republicans would be giving up their ability to leverage the individual spending bills to make policy changes for federal agencies, or block funds for certain programs.
    But the speaker left it up to the members, saying, "It would be a shame, but the sky won't fall if we don't do a budget," according to a Republican source in the closed-door meeting.
    Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, the Freedom Caucus chairman, told reporters after the meeting that he leaders have changed topline budget numbers in previous spending debates, even when those numbers were supposed to be "locked in." He didn't rule out voting for a package outlined by leadership, but said he and other conservatives are still weighing their next steps.
    The problem for Ryan is that the budget deal negotiated by Boehner set the overall spending level for this year's spending bills. Boehner's willingness to reach the agreement with Democrats infuriated the GOP base, but did remove any potential "fiscal cliff" for his party to navigate right before the 2016 election. The deal increased spending for both defense and non-defense sides of the federal ledger, in return for some cuts to entitlement programs, which Democrats had fiercely fought to protect.
    Trump cited the increased spending on Saturday when he again criticized the deal at the CBS presidential debate in South Carolina.
    "Politicians are all talk, no action," Trump said. "You've seen where they've taken you to. We owe $19 trillion right now. It's going to be increased with that horrible budget from a month ago that was just approved by politicians. We need a change. We need a very big change."

    Ryan takes different approach

    Ryan, as he has done since he took the gavel, continues to go out of his way to prove that he is not Boehner.
    "This is a different kind of leadership. This is not jam things down people's throats. This is the kind of leadership where we will make decisions together as a Republican Conference," Ryan told reporters Thursday.
    Because the majority of House Republicans opposed that deal the task of convincing that many to now go along with the topline numbers is a tough hurdle for Ryan. He made the argument in Friday's meeting that after you account for the added defense money that many Republicans wanted, in the end the battle they were waging now was over saving $40 million -- a small fraction of the entire federal budget.
    Supporters of moving forward with the current budget blueprint warned fellow Republicans that by not passing a budget they would take away their ability to set up the next president with the ability to make some key policy changes.
    "Why are we even here then?" Virginia GOP Rep. Scott Rigell asked, saying, "We have a reasonable chance of enacting substantive legislation, if and only if we pass a budget."
    House GOP leaders will continue to evaluate whether they can corral their members as a week-long recess begins where they will head home to face restless voters who continue to complain that Washington just doesn't get it.
    "Right now I think everybody is trying to weigh whether it's better to vote for a budget that everybody back home doesn't want you to vote for or not have a budget," Meadows said.