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The Politics Of the Coming Budget Fight

Last month, in a little-noticed move, House Republicans voted to give massive power to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan:

[T]he new rules also include a stunning and unprecedented provision authorizing the Chairman of the Budget Committee elected in the 112th Congress, expected to be Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, to submit for publication in the Congressional Record total spending and revenue limits and allocations of spending to committees — and the rules provide that this submission “shall be considered as the completion of congressional action on a concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2011.” In other words, in the absence of a budget resolution agreement between the House and the Senate, it appears that Rep. Ryan (presumably with the concurrence of the Republican leadership) will be allowed to set enforceable spending and revenue limits, with any departure from those limits subject to being ruled “out of order.”
This rule change has immediate, far-reaching implications. It means that by voting to adopt the proposed new rules on January 5, a vote on which party discipline will be strictly enforced, the House could effectively be adopting a budget resolution and limits for appropriations bills that it has never even seen, much less debated and had an opportunity to amend. (There is no requirement for Representative Ryan to make his proposed spending and revenue limits available to Members or the public before the vote on the new rules.)

The maneuver here is "deem and pass," a procedural tactic that Democrats briefly contemplated during the health care debate and abandoned when conservatives threw a fit of apoplexy. Essentially the House deems a law -- in this case, Ryan's budget -- to have passed without a direct vote. It's certainly a less transparent way to do conduct votes.

I don't, however, have a real problem with it. If the opposition understands what's happening, it shouldn't allow the majority to hide its votes from public scrutiny. The vote to adopt the rule becomes the vote to adopt the policy. And so Democrats are attacking Republicans for supporting Ryan's budget cuts:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 19 House Republicans they believe are "vulnerable." Fifth district Congressman Robert Hurt is on their list.
Hurt says he's not surprised and that he welcomes comments or criticism, but he says there are some accusations they have wrong. The DCCC is running radio ads, web ads and more in the district this week as part of their Drive to 25 campaign. One of the ads says Hurt has plans to cut education and research by 40 percent. Hurt says he's on a committee that studies proposals, but that the claim isn't true.
"Because I'm a member of that committee, somehow that means that I want to cut education by 40 percent or something like that. I mean it's just totally made up out of whole cloth. I don't know where its coming from," he said.

Sorry, Rep. Hurt, but when you voted to empower Ryan to reshape the federal budget, you voted for his priorities. So it doesn't matter that Hurt has not voted to cut education and research by 40 percent. (That's the portion of the federal budget where Democrats clearly believe Republicans are most vulnerable.) Every Republican who supported it can be held accountable for the policy. If they don't like being held accountable for the power they defer to Ryan, they can go back to the old, more transparent system.