The House Freedom Caucus is not pleased with the $4 trillion Republican budget plan, which was introduced Tuesday and is scheduled for a committee vote Wednesday. Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn., in turn, is not pleased with the Freedom Caucus’ reaction and is worried the mounting intraparty budget fight has Republicans “shooting ourselves in the foot.”
As it stands now, the budget plan Rep. Black has put forward will not pass the House of Representatives.
“I can tell you with 100 percent confidence — they don’t have the votes to pass it on the House floor,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Monday. Meadows is critical of the mere $200 billion in spending cuts in the Republican plan, a plan that spends nearly $4 trillion. These paltry spending cuts are too little for conservatives in Congress and yet too much for the progressive purists in the GOP Tuesday Group.
Black argues that these cuts could be the beginning of negotiations for greater spending and wishes that the Freedom Caucus would have a more optimistic outlook.
"I would've liked for him to have been excited about the $200 billion," Black told the Washington Examiner. "Obviously, he and some of his colleagues in his group would like this to be $400 billion, and I have to remind them that this is a floor not a ceiling."
There are several reasons conservatives shouldn’t get excited about this budget plan, even if the spending cuts are a move in the right direction and the president’s priorities – including a border wall – are funded on paper.
Firstly, the budget does not create laws for spending that members of Congress are obliged to follow. Budget plans are more like guidelines than hard rules. Time and time again, conservatives have watched as good budget proposals never materialize into good appropriations bills – the pieces of legislation that write checks.
The budget may claim to balance in 10 years with a $9 billion surplus. It may claim $200 billion in spending cuts. However, until there are commitments to put those provisions in appropriations bills, those spending cuts are worth less than the paper they’re written on.
Secondly, the issue at the heart of the Freedom Caucus’ hesitancy to support Black’s budget is the GOP plan to use budget reconciliation to pass tax reform. The Senate’s budget reconciliation rules require explicit instructions in the budget language to make tax reform possible. With the details of Congress’ tax plan are still unknown, conservatives do not want to approve budget language that could allow for eventual tax increases as part of a GOP plan for “revenue-neutral” tax reform.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., has supported the inclusion of a new border-adjustment tax in the GOP reform package. If conservatives sign off on the budget without details of the tax plan, language permitting such new taxes could be present in the bill.
This is why Meadows says there’s a need for clarity on tax reform. “We need clarity on the mandatory cuts we’re going to get serious about. Without those two, I don't know if there’s any reason to pass a budget, because we’re already doing appropriations,” he said Monday.
Ultimately, what’s needed is a firm commitment from the president and a genuine effort from Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to rally Republicans to make the goals set by the budget a reality of appropriations bills.
If Republican leadership is unwilling to make that effort, it follows that conservatives ought to seek new leaders.