House GOP Faces Test On Budget Priorities

03/24/2015 12:31 pm ET | Updated Mar 24, 2015
Win McNamee via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are hoping they can bring deficit hawks and defense hawks together this week to support a budget -- and avoid an embarrassment if the conference fails to present a unified front on its priorities for the country.

They expect to pull off getting a budget through, thanks to an unusual move to vote on two plans and reluctant promises from some fiscal conservatives to support a budget that would increase spending by adding money for defense.

"It doesn't do any good to be financially responsible if you're dead, so I'm going to vote for it and protect national security," Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told reporters Tuesday after a House GOP conference meeting.

The House is set to vote Wednesday on budgets for the government that would significantly cut domestic spending through measures such as ending Obamacare and slashing welfare programs. Budgets are more a partisan statement of priorities than legislation to appropriate funding, so being unable to cobble together the number of Republicans needed to pass one would be yet another hurdle in a string of difficulties getting the various factions of the conference to agree. At odds are defense hawks, who say the budget must provide more funding for the military, and fiscal conservatives, who consider deficit cuts to be the top priority.

To resolve the problem, the House will hold votes on two bills: the budget that passed through the Budget Committee last week from Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), which some conservatives said did not provide enough military funding, and one that adds even more funding to the Overseas Contingency Operation fund. Adding defense money through this fund allows the GOP to avoid violating spending caps created in 2011, although some deficit hawks consider it a gimmick.

House GOP leadership told reporters that they expect the budget with more Overseas Contingency Operation funding to pass.

"It's going to be a very important moment for our conference. ... I think you're going to see a very unified House Republican conference on the floor Wednesday," Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said at a press conference.

Some fiscal conservatives may be willing to support the budget, even with additional defense spending that it has offset, because it would bring them closer to a vote to end Obamacare through a process called reconciliation. That would allow Republicans to pass a bill that could actually get to the president, rather than being blocked by Democrats in the Senate.

"I campaigned when I came back here with my heart and soul to get rid of Obamacare, and it's the one shot that we've got to get something on his desk," Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) told reporters.

That's not to say everyone is supportive of the bill with extra Overseas Contingency Operations funds. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said he is against the version that further boosts military funding, but thinks it will pass because of the overwhelming support from defense hawks.

"If the OCO number ends up on his desk, the president is most likely going to look at it and say, 'Well, that’s great, but where’s my money, where’s my money for the stuff I want and don’t bother me about paying for it, Republicans, because you didn’t pay for the stuff you want so I don’t have to pay for the stuff I want.' And we are to end right back up in this deficit cycle."

The Senate is moving on the budget this week as well, and faces a similar conflict over whether more defense funding is needed. The Budget Committee voted last week to increase funding for the military, but it could be difficult for the extra funding defense hawks have demanded to get past a procedural hurdle on the Senate floor.

Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting.

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