Is the Paul Ryan budget dead?
If yesterday's actions by House Republicans are any indication, it would appear that there aren't enough Republicans in the House to approve the deep cuts necessary to reach a balanced budget in 10 years as the Ryan plan requires.
When House Republicans approved the Ryan budget a few months ago, there were many Republicans who warned that the deep cuts being called for (along with entitlement reform) would not be passed. Too many cuts for goodies like roads and bridges not to mention deep cuts in social programs would make too many in the GOP caucus skittish.
Yesterday, those warnings came to fruition as the leadership yanked a Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill from the floor when it became apparent they didn't have the votes for passage.
Long-running Republican tensions over the Ryan budget's deep spending cuts boiled over Wednesday as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee accused his party of being unable to support them.
In a blistering statement, Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he was "extremely disappointed" with his leadership's decision to pull the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) spending bill from the floor.
Leadership said they simply ran out of time -- but Rogers charged that wasn't the real reason.
He hinted that a vote on the measure was scrapped because leaders didn't have the votes to support the deep cuts he was directed to write, and accused Republicans of effectively abandoning House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget.
Rogers called for a bipartisan deal that would replace the unpopular sequester with something bridging the gap between the House budget and Senate spending measures he said were too costly to pass the lower chamber.
"With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago," Rogers said. "Thus, I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration -- and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts -- must be brought to an end. And, it is also clear that the higher funding levels advocated by the Senate are also simply not achievable in this Congress."
The office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) cited the House's busy schedule this week for pulling the bill, but with the chamber scheduled to leave for its five-week August recess on Friday, it likely won't come up again until the fall, if at all. House members returned to Washington late Tuesday.
"The prospects for passing this bill in September are bleak at best, given the vote count on passage that was apparent this afternoon," Rogers said.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) denied Republicans lacked the votes for the bill. "We just don't have enough time," he told The Hill.
Asked to respond to Rogers's statement, Cantor said the "larger problem" for rank-and-file Republicans is the lack of action to reform entitlement programs, an issue that is not part of appropriations bills but was at the heart of the Ryan budget.
When reality strikes, there are a lot of budget warriors who lose heart - and scramble for their political lives. Did House Republicans think this would be easy? The spending that has accumulated just in the last decade will take a generation to fix. One can certainly applaud the efforts of Paul Ryan, but without entitlement reform, the rest of his budget is meaningless.
Slashing the budget is just one part of reducing the size and scope of government. It's an important part, but simply starving government of funds won't alter the psychology of big government, which must justify its existence by ever expanding budgets and responsibilities. Real leadership is needed from the executive branch to change that mindset.
Obviously it won't come from the present occupant of the White House. But when the party that supposedly stands for rational spending and reducing the influence of government can't even begin the process, it is right for Republicans to wonder if there might be alternative leadership that could do a better job.