Paul Ryan Faces Growing Republican Budget Rifts

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
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Republicans are facing growing internal divisions over budget talks as GOP appropriators and defense hawks urge their leaders to compromise with Democrats and reach a deal.

The central rift is that House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Republican leaders don’t want to raise so much as a penny in new tax revenues, worried that it’d spark a conservative mutiny. Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Democrats have made abundantly clear they won’t cut spending any further without new revenues. GOP leadership prefers the status quo to acceding to taxes, but many of their members have different priorities and are eager to stop governing from crisis to crisis.

Appropriators hate sequestration and despise continuing resolutions; they want to return to making a budget. Defense hawks are deeply concerned about the sequester’s additional $20 billion in across-the-board cuts to military programs on Jan. 15.

The latest fissure came to light Monday as House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and all 12 Republican chairs of the Appropriations subcommittees wrote a letter urging the budget conference chairs to settle on a topline spending level — and quickly.

“The failure to reach a budget deal to allow Appropriations to assemble funding for 2014 will reopen the specter of another government shutdown,” the Republican chairs wrote. “Second, it will reopen the probability of governance by continuing resolution, based on prior year outdated spending needs and priorities. … Third, the current sequester and the upcoming ‘Second Sequester’ in January would result in more indiscriminate across-the-board reductions that could have negative consequences on critically important federal programs, especially our national defense.”

Translation: we’ve had enough of this, so let’s compromise quickly and stop the madness.

A similar letter — dated Oct. 23 and signed by House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and its 29 Republican members — details the dangers of military sequestration and pleads with the budget committee to bring it to an end.

“The most significant threat to our national defense may be the continued reduction to defense funding without account for the impacts to our National Security Strategy,” the Republicans wrote. “The members of this committee believe that everything should be on the table in order to address our Nation’s deficit spending.”

Translation: we care much more about ending the defense spending cuts than refusing revenues, so do what you have to do to reach a deal already.

The budget conference committee has until Dec. 13 to reach a deal or disband. It’s showing few signs of life, the most salient of which is that both sides want to replace or chip away at the sequester. But Murray remains committed to closing wasteful tax loopholes in any deal. Ryan badly wants cuts to safety-net programs like Medicare and Social Security but not if it means giving up new tax revenues.

The concerns of appropriators and military hawks don’t appear to be swaying the Wisconsinite on taxes. “Chairman Ryan is committed to finding common ground,” William Allison, Ryan’s spokesman, told TPM in an email on Tuesday. “He hopes both parties can work together to cut spending in a smarter way.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters Tuesday he “understand[s] the frustration from the appropriators.” He said he’s “hopeful” that the budget conference committee will agree on a spending level, but “you’ll have to talk to Paul Ryan and Senator Murray about that.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are happy to see Republicans pushing Ryan. “There is a ton of pressure on Ryan to find a way to get a deal here,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, “and not be the latest face of gridlock and obstruction that will lead to another round of defense cuts.”

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