Additional reporting by Tierney Sneed
A handful of GOP Senate deficit hawks are warning that a budget resolution intended to speed the repeal of Obamacare could lead to a huge increase in the deficit. Though the resolution is still likely to pass, the red flags raised by these senators could complicate the GOP’s effort to move forward with their longstanding vow to repeal the law.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is leading the charge. After casting the lone Republican vote against the resolution in the Senate on Wednesday, claiming it would create a “budget that never balances,” Paul on Thursday tried to rally conservative House Republicans to his side. The Kentucky Republican met with members of the House Freedom Caucus to urge them not to approve a measure that forecasts a $9 trillion deficit hike over the next decade.
The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reported that few of the caucus members departing Thursday’s meeting said they intended to vote against the resolution, but Paul’s crusade raises uncomfortable questions for Republicans who have built their reputations on promises to balance the budget.
Later in the day, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol that the caucus will announce its official stance after its meeting Monday evening. For his part, Meadows said that as of now he “doubts” he would vote for the Senate resolution, citing its provision creating a reserve fund for an eventual Obamacare replacement.
Republican leadership is saying that the eye-popping debt projections laid out in the 2017 resolution put forth this week are stand-ins that were drawn largely from the Congressional Budget Office’s current projections for the next decade. Those numbers will shrink in the 2018 budget resolution slated to come out this spring, they say.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told the Huffington Post on Thursday that he was “not really concerned” that GOP lawmakers would derail the resolution over the projected debt figures because they “realize” the 2017 resolution is a stopgap rather than an actual budget.
The concerned senators are attempting to hold leadership’s feet to the fire. In a letter sent to Senate GOP leaders on Tuesday, three lawmakers who voted for the 2017 resolution warned that the party must continue to prioritize a balanced budget as it moves forward with its goal of rapidly repealing Obamacare.
“We seek your commitment to passing a fiscal year 2018 budget resolution that sets our new, unified Republican federal government on a path to balance in 10 years without the use of budgetary gimmicks or tax increases,” Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) wrote. “Our votes in favor of the ‘Obamacare Repeal Resolution’ do not indicate in any way our support for the revenue, spending, and deficit numbers therein, nor for the use of those numbers as the basis for future federal budgets.”
This arrangement requires a leap of faith. Lawmakers voting for the resolution must trust that GOP leadership can follow through with their promise to resolve outstanding deficit hike concerns by spring.