House Republicans are about to find themselves with multiple rival road maps for budget cuts, just as a high-stakes battle over the nation’s debt limit is set to intensify in the Capitol.
In addition to the House Budget Committee’s plan that is expected in the coming weeks, the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, and the hard-line House Freedom Caucus are also crafting budget positions and priorities.
Talks between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on spending cuts as a condition for raising the debt ceiling are at a stalemate, but could ramp up as the White House releases its budget proposal on Thursday and the House puts forward its own.
But the multiple House GOP proposals in the works could complicate Republicans putting up a united front in the talks, with Democrats likely to single out any particular proposals from individual plans.
The Republican Study Committee (RSC) — whose plan last year fueled attacks from Democrats over its provisions concerning Social Security and Medicare — expects to release its annual budget blueprint no later than April. Last year’s plan aimed to balance the budget in seven years in part by cutting federal spending by $16.6 trillion over a decade.
Meanwhile, members of the House Freedom Caucus say the group is crafting a slate of budget priorities that it hopes will influence the budget plan.
“We want to get something that we can start rallying around and take the arrows as well as the compliments,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a House Freedom Caucus member whose previous opposition to McCarthy during a dramatic election saga at the start of the year was based largely on wanting a balanced budget plan.
The official House GOP plan will come from the Budget Committee and will aim to win the support of 218 Republicans.
House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) called the various frameworks “complimentary,” while recognizing that some of the blueprints might be more aggressive on cuts.
“I’m OK with any number of long-term aspirational budget frameworks … But the one that is the official budget that is endorsed by the Republican Conference is the one that gets to 218 [votes],” Arrington said.
“I’m working to get a budget that is fiscally responsible, and that goes big, but also recognizes we can’t eat the whole elephant in one budget resolution,” said Arrington, who said he expects the House budget plan to be released by mid-April.
Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.), who is leading the RSC’s budget and spending task force this year, told The Hill that he expects the RSC blueprint to come out after the Budget Committee release — signaling that it will not be as much of a tool to influence the House GOP budget.
“There’s conversations to try and harmonize [with the Budget Committee] as much as possible, but we recognize that the RSC budget is likely to be slightly more conservative,” Cline said.
He added that he thinks the plan produced by the GOP-led Budget Committee will “probably reflect the Republican Conference priorities as a whole,” while noting the panel is a “more diverse group of Republicans than the RSC.”
Cline views the coming RSC budget as somewhat separate from the debt limit talks. The RSC separately laid out official positions on the debt ceiling negotiations last month, endorsing moves like reducing discretionary spending and measures to reduce debt-to-gross domestic product ratio without getting deep into the details.
McCarthy and House Republicans say that any changes to Social Security and Medicare will be off the table for debt limit negotiations. But in keeping with recent political moves, Democrats are likely to seize on any proposal from individual Republicans or caucuses, particularly any measures on potential reforms to entitlement programs.
“All of them will be producing budgets that are extremely unpopular as well, so the Democrats can cherry pick and show people the worst of the ideas and how awful they are,” said veteran Democratic strategist Mike Lux. “And that’ll be good for us.”
The RSC budget has traditionally been brought up for a floor vote when Republicans control the House in addition to a Budget Committee blueprint, but has failed in the past due to objections from other Republicans. Cline expects the RSC budget to get a floor vote this year.
The Freedom Caucus, meanwhile, appears to be trying to push the official House budget and debt limit negotiations to be more conservative.
“We’re preparing to lead as we enter the time when the debt ceiling discussion is going to be in the forefront,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.).
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) described the Freedom Caucus plan as a set of guiding principles for the debt ceiling debate and spending fight, and that the minimum is to revert overall discretionary spending (which does not include Social Security and Medicare) back to fiscal year 2022 levels.
Republicans across the conference have signaled optimism about coming to an agreement, but ironing out those details will be one of the first major tests of the slim majority.
“We really haven’t really had any hard votes so far, nothing controversial,” said RSC Chairman Kevin Hern (Okla.). “I think, as we get in this budget and debt limit debate … it’ll be tough on some folks.”
In a report last month, the Congressional Budget Office projected this year’s federal budget national deficit to reach $1.4 trillion for fiscal 2023, up $400 billion from its May 2022 estimate.
“It absolutely has gotten more difficult to balance the budget given the ridiculous levels of spending we’ve seen over the last couple of years,” Cline said. “Just the interest on the debt is crowding out discretionary spending and forcing us to make really tough choices to keep that balance under 10 years.”
Budget hawks and Democrats have cast doubt on the prospect of balancing the federal budget in a decade without drastic reforms to government funding, including on the mandatory side, where dollars for Social Security and Medicare comprise a chunk of annual spending.
“Too often, proposals touted as ‘fiscal reforms’ are actually backdoor ways of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other vital programs,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.