WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday delivered a message to conservatives unhappy with last year's pact with President Barack Obama that boosted spending for the Pentagon and domestic agencies: You're stuck with it.
Ryan is facing a restive right wing that could deliver him an embarrassing setback by denying the votes for a GOP budget this year. Ryan wants to abide by last year's higher spending deal but wrap in conservative ideas like a balanced budget for the future.
The Wisconsin Republican said at a party meeting Friday that conservative demands to roll back the spending increases could mean a new round of Washington gridlock. That gridlock guarantees the increases get rubber-stamped anyway, either as a catchall omnibus spending measure or by keeping the budget on automatic pilot past the Oct. 1 start of the 2017 fiscal year.
The person in the room requested anonymity to describe Ryan's message because the remarks were made behind closed doors.
At issue is the arcane, often frustrating budget process on Capitol Hill. The annual budget by Congress typically make bold promises, but in reality it's a nonbinding blueprint that sets the stage for follow-up legislation, specifically a round of appropriations bills and, is some years, special budget legislation that would allow Republicans to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate and deliver cuts to Obama.
It gets complicated, but basically last year's budget deal passed with Democratic votes and was signed by Obama. But any new GOP budget must pass with nearly unanimous Republican support since it will also call for big cuts to domestic programs favored by Democrats and deny Obama his proposed tax increases.
A key wrinkle is that last year's deal, worked out by former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other top congressional leaders, awarded roughly $66 billion in higher spending for the ongoing budget year and essentially requires those levels to stay in place for the 2017 cycle starting next fall. Washington's longstanding practice when faced with budget gridlock is to keep spending at current levels until the impasse is broken.
However, some conservatives — especially the hard-right Freedom Caucus that pushed out Boehner — want to rewrite last fall's agreement to cut back domestic increases such as higher IRS spending. On Friday, Ryan warned that such an effort would fail in the Senate and force the very gridlock that would guarantee the higher levels get renewed anyway.
A new budget would also give Republicans an opportunity to deliver filibuster-proof spending cuts to Obama such tougher requirements for public assistance.
The GOP source in the meeting said Ryan told the rank-and-file that it would be a shame it the party couldn't produce a budget but that "the sky won't fall" since there's no fiscal "cliff" like the need to increase the government's debt limit.
Last year's budget agreement applied to about $1.1 trillion in annual "discretionary" spending for day-to-day operations of the Pentagon and domestic Cabinet agencies. So-called mandatory spending such as Social Security, Medicare and health care costs under the Affordable Care Act is responsible for the rest of the $4 trillion-plus federal budget.