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 Red 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.
|© AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2016 file photo, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, speaks to supporters with his wife Kelley by his side, during a caucus night victory party at the Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines, Iowa.|
GOP has big plans, but some ask: What about the deficit?
Congressional Republicans are trying to do everything President-elect Donald Trump wants -- and that they've promised voters they'd do -- without blowing up the federal budget.
According to Sen. Rand Paul, it's not working.
Paul, the Kentucky Republican, is leading a lonely charge against GOP leaders' plan to approve a budget resolution that clears the way for Obamacare's repeal -- in part by lifting spending limits in a way he says would balloon the deficit by $9.7 trillion over 10 years.
He met with 25 House Republicans on Thursday -- mostly members of the conservative Freedom Caucus -- to urge them to stymie the measure in the House after he was the lone Republican to oppose it in the Senate.
Paul complained on a call with reporters Thursday evening that Republicans are doing exactly what they accused President Barack Obama and Democrats of doing for years: Spending recklessly to accomplish political objectives.
"I think it's important, no matter who's in charge ... to be vigilant for conservative principles," Paul said. "Before I got in politics, I was a private citizen and I watched the George W. Bush administration -- with Republicans complicit and Democrats complicit -- grow the debt from $5 to $10 trillion. The Obama administration grew it from $10 to $20 trillion."
House and Senate leaders have said the budget resolution is merely a stopgap designed to allow them to strike down Obamacare without Democratic votes in the Senate, and say it won't take effect and actually increase spending.
But Paul said he fears Republicans will use the same claims later this year to enact Trump priorities including tax reform.
If Paul is ultimately successful, it would thwart the avenue Republican leaders had identified to work around Democratic objections and roll back Obama's signature domestic achievement.
It's not the only area where deficit spending concerns are causing at least some Republicans to hit the brakes on Trump's priorities.
A massive infrastructure initiative was a big talking point for the President-elect, but House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania, said not to expect plan details any time soon. Right now, he says the focus will be figuring out how to pay for the trillion-dollar price tag.
"We're going to start to work on it, but first of all, you've got to figure out the pay for it, which will come, I believe, in the first 100 days. Then in the next second 100 days is when we'll put together a big infrastructure package," he said.
While Paul cast the lone vote against the budget measure Wednesday, other Senate Republicans raised concerns.
Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee sent a letter to the party's Senate leaders urging "transparent spending and revenue numbers" to be included in the budget resolution for 2018 -- even as they agreed with the 2017 budget resolution that includes the language that will help the GOP repeal Obamacare.
"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," the three wrote.
Paul, meanwhile, didn't leave his meeting with the House Republicans with any firm commitments, as Freedom Caucus members said they'd discuss the topic at a caucus meeting Monday.
"The Freedom Caucus has been very strong in its support of a balanced budget, and it's too early to tell whether that would be a casualty of voting for this budget," said Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.
"Any time you look at anything, you've got to be concerned about the cost," Meadows said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said "we're waiting for our meeting" to discuss the group's position.
"We heard some good information from Rand. We had some good dialogue back and forth," he said.
Others deflected questions about the mechanics of how Congress will roll back Obama's health law.
"I'm supportive of repealing Obamacare," said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan.
Paul acknowledged in an interview with CNN Wednesday that the Senate GOP budget move is related to Obamacare but says it doesn't have to raise the deficit.
"We're told they're doing this just so they can get rid of Obamacare, and that's true. Well we could have done both. We could have introduced a budget that actually leads to balance, is fiscally conservative and repeals Obamacare," Paul said.
Rand Paul huddles with Freedom Caucus but finds little support to slow down GOP budget
One day after pledging to vote against the GOP’s budget resolution, which would begin the process of breaking down the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gathered 24 members of the House Freedom Caucus to talk through possible opposition strategies.
In theory, if the 24 held together, the budget would fail in the House. In reality, as they walked in and out of Room 2203 of the Rayburn Building, few of the House’s staunch conservatives were ready to pull the trigger.
“I just came to understand all the different ideas about where we go next,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), who said he would probably vote for the budget resolution.
“We haven’t made a decision whether to support it or not support it,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the new chairman of the Freedom Caucus.
“I’m not staking out a position on the budget just yet,” Rep. Brian Babin (R-Tex.) said.
The collective shrug provided the latest evidence that Paul’s protest of the resolution would be a familiar, lonely one. His floor speech attacking the budget resolution for making no attempts at deficit reduction — it actually projects a $9.7 trillion increase in the debt by 2026 — was preempted by statements from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pledging to vote for the resolution.
Thursday’s meeting between Paul and House conservatives was similarly drained free of drama. Talking to reporters outside, Paul largely conceded that conservatives would not defeat the budget resolution. His argument, instead, was that a larger no vote, fully explained by the holdouts, would give them more bargaining power as the Republican agenda marched ahead.
“I wanted to make sure that conservatives in the House knew that, together, we can have impact and influence on what the budget will be,” Paul said. “I heard one person say that, ‘Well, we’ll vote for this now, but we won’t in four months.’ My point is that the Republican leadership will come back and say, ‘You already voted for it once, why not vote for it a second time?’ There’s a danger in being on record for $9.7 trillion in debt.”
That position has made Paul one of very few Republicans still talking about the debt, a focus of Republican ire throughout the Obama years, as a national crisis worth building legislation around. During his presidential campaign, which ended after the 2016 Iowa caucuses, Paul made a number of attempts to draw attention to the national debt and to promote his annual plans to balance the budget with steep spending cuts. Republican voters flocked instead to Donald Trump, who either ignored the debt or said that new economic growth would start chipping away at it.
Months later, most of the Freedom Caucus — 17 members — voted against the GOP’s 2016 budget on debt-reduction grounds. The new budget resolution makes even fewer concessions to debt reduction.
“We want to keep in mind the overall picture, both the deficit and how tired people are Obamacare,” said Rep. Randy Weber (R-Tex.). “I do think there’s a danger of the Republicans actually owning this.”