Ryan-Murray budget deal shafts GOP senators, critics say
Posted By Neil Munro On 4:41 PM 12/16/2013
The 2014 budget deal developed by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan includes a hidden Election-Day boost to endangered Democratic senators, and helps Democrats pass spending increases, say conservatives.The boost is a change to the Senate’s debating and voting rules, which will allow Majority Leader Harry Reid to stage high-profile spending votes that would give his Democratic senators something to boast about next November.
“What Ryan did was hand Reid an agenda for next year and [allow favorable] political votes for his caucus,” said one former leadership staffer who opposes the budget deal agreed to by Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.
For example, Reid can stage votes so that endangered Democrats can portray themselves as passing popular increases in education spending, the former staffer said.Ryan “is basically giving them 30-second ads to run in their campaigns,” while also forcing House Republicans to fend off Senate-approved spending increases, he said.
The deal, which was passed by the House last week, “undermines the right of Senators to enforce spending limits and block tax increases by raising a key point of order,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, the GOP budget chairman, said in a Monday statement. “In the aftermath of the nuclear option, this further erosion of Senators’ rights should be opposed by members of both parties.”
The hidden clause “was totally unexpected and a genuine surprise to our experienced committee analysts when they unearthed it after the legislation became public,” Sessions said.
The deal also shows how the GOP leaders in the House are working with Democratic leaders to build a “grand coalition of the establishment” that is intended to marginalize the GOP’s core voters in the tea party groups, he said.
The emerging establishment coalition, he said, will likely unite in February to push an immigration bill that would provide 30 million green cards to Democratic-leaning immigrant workers during the next decade.
The point was pushed by Michael Needham, the head of Heritage Action for America. “The Speaker is trying to turn this into a boring fight between outside groups and himself so that we are not having a policy debate about whether or not this is a good deal,” he said.
“They want to clear the way for immigration,” Needham said.
Ryan is a major proponent of increased immigration, but has declined to promote the controversial goal in public.
The Ryan-Murray budget faces a close vote on Tuesday, partly because most GOP senators, and a few Democratic senators, have announced they oppose the deal.
Reid needs all the help he can get to hold his narrow 10-vote majority in the Senate past the November election.
He approved the Ryan-Murray deal, which provides benefits to both parties’ leaders.
For example, the budget deal prevents the Democrats from shutting down government and using their media allies to blame the GOP for the shutdown.
In turn, the Democrats gain $63 billion in extra spending during 2014 and 2015, which will be partly offset by raised taxes or fees. Most of the offset, $47 billion, will consist of spending cuts slated for 2022 and 2023. The deal also trims military retirement funds, while blocking cuts to civil-service pensions.
The bill also reverses $31.6 billion in Pentagon cuts.
President Barack Obama and Reid have only a 10-vote advantage in the 100-seat chamber, and current polls show that they would lose his majority if the election was held today.
If the GOP gets control of the Senate in November, Republicans would be able to shut down much of Obama’s regulatory goals.
The boost is hidden in complex language, and is denied by staffers working for Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, and for Murray, the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee.
The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, was largely cut out of the closed-door talks between Ryan and Murray.
“I regret to say that this bill clearly and unequivocally undermines the ability of the Senate to maintain agreed-upon statutory spending limits. It legitimizes tax and spend,” he said in a statement. “Statutory spending limits can be breached as long as new taxes or fees (on unpopular entities most likely) are levied to pay for the spending increase.”
“Perhaps the House didn’t understand what the impact would be … but the Senate has used this crucial tool to block tax-and-spend bills on at least three occasions in the recent past,” Sessions said.
Sessions is a small-government conservative who is expected to vote against the Ryan deal.
Ryan’s spokesman denied the charge.
“The provision would not allow Senate Democrats to pass a tax increase with a simple majority vote,” said spokesman William Allison. “Chairman Ryan and House Republicans have never wavered in their commitment to block any tax increase on the American people.”
Murray’s office also denied the charge.
“The basic claim, that this deal would allow a future change to sequestration that could raise taxes with only 50 votes, is completely false,” said spokesman Eli Zupnick.
Zupnick also cited a statement from two former Hill staffers now working at the business-backed Bipartisan Policy Center. The bill “maintains all of the historical prerogatives of the Senate minority when considering legislation resulting from the use of a reserve fund mechanism,” William Hoagland and Steve Bell said.
Those reassurances are misleading, said opponents of the deal.
The deal “will only facilitate Reid calling up any social spending bill offset with tax increases as a political tool, and not as a serious attempt to legislate,” said a statement from the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee.
“Sec. 114(c) [in the deal] establishes a deficit-neutral reserve fund for sequester replacement that would allow Senate Democrats to bring to the floor legislation that replaces the [budget-cutting] sequester with tax increases … as long as the proposed legislation did not increase the deficit over the ten-year period 2014–2023,” said a Dec. 16 statement from Sessions’ office.
Because of the deal, the combined tax-and-spend measure could pass through the Senate with 50 votes, not the current super-majority requirement for 60 votes.
Democrats have to gain from the arcane budget rules because they fought for them, said the former leadership aide.
“Put yourself in Patty Murray’s shoes; why would they ask for it unless they want to do it?” he said. “Why they care … is that they get a protected vote on their issues” before the November election.