CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Oct. 31, 2011 – 10:45 p.m.
Conservatives Wary of Deficit Compromise
By Richard E. Cohen, CQ Staff
Conservative House Republicans, some of them still unhappy about the outcome of the debt limit and discretionary spending showdowns, are expressing doubt that the joint deficit committee will produce anything they can support.
Many conservatives are urging like-minded colleagues to be prepared to resist whatever the joint committee may propose rather than support a deal likely to be blessed by many Senate Democrats and President Obama.
The unease among the majority’s rank and file compounds the challenge facing Speaker
GOP leaders knew when the joint committee was established last summer by the debt limit law (PL 112-25) that any agreement reached by the panel will be centrist in nature, and unlikely to win the support of those in the party’s right flank, especially among lawmakers who voted against the agreement that set up the process.
Since no one expects them to support the panel’s recommendations, the most conservative Republicans have relatively little ability to influence the joint committee’s direction. And the clout of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) has been weakened by controversy surrounding its chairman,
Those on the right flank of the House GOP appear united against any deficit reduction plan that includes revenue increases. Some would prefer that Republican leaders resist compromise with Democrats and the president, even though not enacting the joint committee’s recommendations would trigger discretionary spending cuts.
Conservatives view the potential automatic cuts, or budget sequester, as a lesser evil, even as they acknowledge that such an outcome would hit programs Republicans support as hard as those they oppose. Republican Policy Committee Chairman
“We have backed ourselves into a corner with the defense cuts,” said
Mulvaney said that Congress could revise or repeal the sequester, which under the debt limit law would take effect in January 2013. But he acknowledged that Republican leaders have shot down that idea, which would result in no additional deficit reduction.
The yearlong interval between the conclusion of the joint committee’s work and the sequester leaves open the possibility of revisiting the automatic spending cuts after next fall’s elections.
Many conservatives have been cool to the joint committee from the start — wary in part because it was initially proposed by Senate Majority Leader
Conservative grumbling grew louder when Republican leaders began holding listening sessions last month to gauge the sentiments of rank-and-file lawmakers.
Mulvaney said that some other House conservatives conditioned their August vote for the debt limit package on an understanding that the joint committee would produce a substantial proposal to reduce the deficit. “Many members who voted for the debt ceiling would be very unhappy, and we would lose the faith of the American people,” Mulvaney said of a meager proposal. “This would be the worst possible result for our party.”
Conservatives Wary of Deficit Compromise
Mindful of conservative mistrust of the deficit committee and its substantial powers, Boehner has made sure that committee co-chairman
“Jeb always gives me confidence. But he doesn’t control the outcome,” Garrett said.
As a past RSC chairman, a Boehner ally and the current Republican Conference chairman, Hensarling is well positioned to reach out to conservatives. Conservative lawmakers said that although they have received few details about the joint committee’s internal discussions, the briefings have made clear the negotiating position of House Republicans. “The members are giving 110 percent to get to a palatable — but not great — solution,” Garrett said.
But there is little doubt that the panel faces an uphill challenge in satisfying the most conservative lawmakers.
“Bad process makes bad policy,” said
McClintock said he would prefer that the House and Senate each produce a proposal and allow a conference committee to resolve the differences.
Chaffetz took the lead in adding a provision to the debt ceiling increase that calls for House and Senate votes by December on a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced federal budget under most circumstances. “I want a solution to our budget woes, not a deal,” he said, voicing concern that the joint committee’s plan may jeopardize support for a constitutional amendment. Along with Mulvaney, Garrett and McClintock, Chaffetz was among 66 Republicans who voted against clearing the debt limit package.
Conservatives have not, however, abandoned hope of influencing the joint committee. Garrett said he is working with other conservatives on a letter to the panel that will suggest spending cuts from a list of earlier proposals.
Republican leaders are urging conservatives to keep an open mind about the panel’s prospective action. “I encourage members to keep their powder dry,” Price said. “It matters what the product is. Members and the public are paying attention.”