The Intra-GOP Budget Fight Grows Toxic Ahead of Schedule

At the beginning of a week where action was scheduled to begin on a FY 2016 congressional budget resolution, it looked like Republicans were on the brink of a big split between fiscal hawks in the House who wanted to maintain caps on defense spending negotiated with the Obama administration and/or to require specific cuts in domestic spending to offset adjustments, and defense hawks in the Senate who wanted above all to blow up the defense caps forever and blast them to hell as a first step towards a 1980s-style defense buildup.

Those intra-Republican dynamics remain in place, but the fight has broken out much earlier than expected, in the House itself, and in fact in the House Budget Committee, where Paul Ryan’s successor as chairman, Tom Price of GA, can’t seem to get the votes to report a budget resolution. The Hill‘s Vicki Needham has the arcane story:

Negotiations to resolve a dispute over defense spending blew up Wednesday night in the House Budget Committee, as the panel came up short of approving a nearly $3.8 trillion Republican blueprint.

Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) saw the chances of pushing through an amendment to boost defense spending without offsets fade quickly in the waning hours of a markup of the GOP’s budget proposal, in the latest misstep for House Republicans.

Without a resolution, the Budget panel packed up for the night with Price saying the committee may reconvene Thursday, after even House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wasn’t able to break the impasse.

House leadership had tested the waters for an amendment from Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) — which would bump up funding to $96 billion for an emergency account earmarked for overseas conflicts without a pay-for — in an effort to attract reluctant defense hawks.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and his chief deputy, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), started reaching out to GOP Budget Committee members about whether a proposal to appease defense hawks could pass the panel even before Price kicked off his budget mark-up, according to aides.

Basically, Republicans anticipated trouble on the floor passing a budget resolution that already included a big chunk of change for an off-budget “contingency fund,” and tried to get an extra $20 billion thrown in to placate the defense hawks, but fiscal hawks on the committee–including that highly symbolic freshman, Rep. Dave Brat of VA, the man who slew Eric Cantor–said no.

Meanwhile, outside the hothouse–yes, pun intended–of the lower chamber, defense hawks were already complaining about the gimmicky nature of the contingency fund and are demanding a straight-up major boost in defense spending. Neocon WaPo blogger Jennifer Rubin was shrieking yesterday that the initial House budget resolution represented a “political betrayal” and a “disaster for national security.”

Trouble is, it’s not easy to find a way to accommodate still more defense spending in a budget that already (a) has the aforementioned phony-baloney “contingency fund,” (b) achieves its “balanced budget” targets only via “dynamic scoring” BS and by assuming revenues from implementation of Obamacare even as it proposes to abolish it, (c) proposes partially privatizing Medicare and dumping Medicaid on the states, and (d) stipulates vast but unspecified additional “entitlement” savings outside Social Security and health care.

There’s just no obvious way out of the budgetary math problems the GOP has invented for itself. If Republicans cannot come up with a consensus budget agreement, we’ll have another high-profile example of that party’s inability to govern, and there will also be no way to proceed with the plan to pass a reconciliation bill to repeal Obamacare to show “the base” what Republicans will be able to do once the hated incumbent has left office.

Expect the gimmickry to reach new heights.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.