Budget Writers Look For Deals
||Wednesday, March 23, 2011
||Jake Sherman and Manu Raju
House Republican leaders are planning to unveil an aggressive 2012 budget in three weeks — a proposal that could help shield them from tea party attacks if they’re forced to cut a deal with Democrats on the stalled 2011 spending bill.
Both parties are quietly negotiating as Congress stands in recess, not only searching for a final dollar figure compromise but also trying to figure out how to deal with some of the most hot-button legislative riders in the bill — including the ban on funding for Planned Parenthood.
Several congressional sources say negotiators are trying to find a middle ground on Planned Parenthood funding, to say that no funding can be used for abortion but allow the group to use money on a handful of other services. Such a compromise is bound to upset social conservatives, but it’s one of several concessions House Republicans may have to make as Senate Republicans like Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska raise concerns about completely cutting off the funding. Negotiators are also considering plans to cut off federal funding for District of Columbia abortion services, something that’s won support from Democrats in the past.
Such compromises might not pass muster with liberals, either — including Planned Parenthood, which says the House plan would eliminate the organization’s ability to provide family and prenatal care and cancer screenings.
“The segregation in this arena has been around for decades — it’s very strict, it’s very strong, so I don’t think there is anything more that can or needs to be done to ensure that federal funding does not pay for abortions,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told POLITICO, referring to the long-standing ban preventing federal money from paying for abortions.
Republicans realize that a compromise of their $61 billion cut will be a tough sell with their caucus, so they are already promising much more dramatic changes for the fiscal 2012 budget rollout next month, saying that’s where the true vision of less spending and smaller government will be unveiled. They say the current spending debate is just about cleaning up the Democrats’ mess.
In a recent interview with a conservative blog, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in no uncertain terms that “we’re going to deal” with entitlements in the 2012 budget. “Whether we can get the Senate or the White House to deal with it, I don’t know. But I can tell you we’re going to deal with it, because we believe that it has to be dealt with now.”
Adding yet another complication to the spending fight is the conflict with Libya — the United States could end up spending tens, or perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars in its most recent bombing campaign in Libya, undermining the spending cuts pushed by Republicans. And neither side wants to be blamed for shutting down a government now engaged in three military conflicts.
There are no immediate plans to offset the cost, aides said.
But for all the talk of partisanship and heel-digging, there’s a serious effort afoot to avoid a government shutdown. With rank-and-file lawmakers back in their districts for the once-monthly weeklong recess, huddling on Capitol Hill are top aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Boehner and the Obama administration.
It’s exactly the kind of deal-cutting that many Republicans eschewed — but it’s the kind that’s critical, given that both parties are growing weary of the series of short-term continuing resolutions the government has operated under since the fiscal year began Oct. 1.
Whether they can even reach a deal remains to be seen, given that they started off some $50 billion apart on how much to cut from the budget this year. Democrats want no riders, and Republicans are clamoring for deeper cuts if riders are taken off the table.
House Republican leadership aides refuse to say whether the parties are meeting — perhaps for fear of creating the appearance that they are seeking a middle ground that would be rejected by the right. But the reality is that the two sides have been meeting consistently since the Senate rejected both the GOP and Democratic spending proposal earlier this month, sources say.
Democrats are pushing Republicans to consider different ways to raise revenue, Senate sources said, but Boehner is unlikely to accept any tax hikes. One other solution is the repatriation holiday — a plan that would allow companies to bring offshore profits back to the U.S. at a reduced tax rate but could also raise revenues by encouraging domestic investment. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said during a speech Monday at Stanford University that he could support such a plan, but it’s unclear whether Democrats and the White House would go along.
There seems to be disagreement on where the parties are on cutting a deal. On a broader agreement on spending, the Democratic aide said, “House Republican leadership realizes they need to cut a deal with Democrats. And they need a face-saving way to do so.” A senior Republican aide responded that the “Senate needs to get it through its thick skull that the House has made clear the position of its majority, and there won’t be much movement until the Senate lays down its plan.”
But in a recent interview, Boehner signaled the need to avoid a shutdown — something he argues would work to the detriment of Republicans looking to cut spending.
“Well, I had a front-row seat back in 1995 and ’96 when this occurred,” Boehner told RedCounty.com. “And what happens is the government shuts down, the bright lights of the media end up on the White House, end up on the Congress, and it makes it difficult for either party to move. At the end of the day, you’re going to end up getting less. Remember, the goal here is to cut spending and not shut down the government.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland was optimistic, as well, telling Fox News on Tuesday that “we’re very close to an agreement. We’re very close to a number that could be agreed on.”
The GOP thinks it may have more leverage when the focus shifts to the 2012 budget — after the current debate is finished. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan is set to tackle entitlements, something the GOP has accused Democrats of leaving behind.
Looming over the current spending fight and the fiscal 2012 fight ahead is the sticky issue of the debt ceiling.
The Republican leadership is looking at sometime between April 15 and May 30 for the nation to hit the ceiling. They’ll likely have to begin the process of increasing the amount the country can borrow sometime in April — just days or weeks after the House votes on a long-term continuing resolution.
Even if they don’t get everything they want, Republicans say they’ll have won the immediate fight with Democrats by forcing them to accept spending cuts deeper than they originally proposed. But in order to quiet the loud voices on the right, they may have to look to the 2012 budget instead.