GOP faces difficult budget fight as it nears 100 days in power

Republicans took control of the House vowing fiscal discipline and touting ambitious spending goals, but achieving those goals has emerged as their greatest challenge after 100 days in power.

The conference is faced with crafting a budget blueprint that can win the support of its slim majority. But its path is all but clear.

House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) told reporters ahead of the current two-week congressional recess that Republicans were still working toward a long-term budget plan but signaled more work needs to be done in order to garner the conference’s full support. 

“We have a goal to balance in 10 years, but whatever the path to balance, gotta get to 218,” he said. He also brushed off questions about timing around when the party is expected to release its budget plan, instead saying Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is “entrusting [him] to work that process.”

Passing a budget was always going to be tough for a party with a five-seat majority, a fractious conference, a lowered threshold for a motion to vacate — and an opposition with no interest in helping it across the finish line. The struggle to agree on what spending cuts to demand as a condition of raising the debt ceiling — and a looming crisis if the debt limit isn’t raised — has also hung over the GOP.

But even while Republicans tout their legislative successes this year, revelations as the party approaches the 100-day mark in the majority have shown just how tough the road ahead seems to be.

Arrington’s comments came days before a bombshell report from The New York Times about private jabs by the Speaker toward the budget chair and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) as pressure rises on the party to make good on promises of fiscal responsibility and reforms.  

Sources familiar with the private criticism said McCarthy had little confidence in Arrington and criticized Scalise as ineffective and unreliable. 

Arrington’s office declined to provide comment on the report. 

Lauren Fine, communications director for Scalise’s office, defended the leader’s track record in a statement without directly addressing the Speaker’s reported criticisms, instead crediting him with guiding “the most productive floor schedule Congress has seen in years.”

“With a Democrat Senate and a Democrat President, five bills he put on the floor have been sent to the President’s desk – three of which have already been signed into law,” Fine also said in the statement, without directly addressing the Speaker’s alleged comments.

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McCarthy’s office didn’t return a request for comment, but he told The Times that he rejects the notion of division between him and the other leaders, while offering some praise to his colleagues’ efforts.

The report adds to hurdles McCarthy faces in trying to unify his conference as spending talks intensify. 

Some GOP members have aired frustrations toward McCarthy in wake of the Times report, dialing up the heat on the leader, who, just months ago, endured a historic 15 rounds of ballots to secure the Speakership. 

In a statement to Axios, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), one of a group of GOP detractors to whom McCarthy made multiple concessions in exchange for their support, called on McCarthy to deliver on those promises. 

“The agreements made by Speaker McCarthy, among other things, is to begin the ten year balanced budget NOW and with his initiatives & directives, it’s HIS responsibility to get the 218 votes to ensure our nation’s financial security JUST AS HE DID IN SECURING THE 218 votes for speaker,” Norman said. 

The conflict comes at a critical time for the party as Congress stares down a likely chaotic next few months until it must act on the debt limit, which caps how much money the Treasury can owe to cover the nation’s bills, or risk a national default.

Republicans had previously set sights on offering a budget plan in mid-April, but that timeline has shifted in recent months as leaders try to get members on the same page going into debt limit negotiations.

In a statement on Tuesday, Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said this year marks two decades that lawmakers have “been unable to meet its basic duty of passing a budget by the April 15 deadline.”

“Even more alarming, we are nearly three months into the use of so-called extraordinary measures after hitting the debt ceiling in January,” MacGuineas added. “We need a plan to prevent default and put our nation’s finances on more sound footing.”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in a report this week that total federal spending in March alone reached about $690 billion, leading the government to run a $376 billion deficit last month. 

The figure is 36 percent higher than the spending recorded during the same period last year, according to the office’s estimates. The largest increases in spending last month were expenses attributed to policies that Republicans are unified in opposing, such as an estimated $34 billion plus-up to the Department of Education that the CBO said reflects the costs of the ongoing student loan payment pause.

The report also outlined significant increases in other areas where the party has struggled to agree on how to trim costs, like entitlement reforms or defense. According to the report, outlays for entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare were also estimated to have seen double-digit increases, as well spending by the Department of Defense, which rose about 18 percent last month compared to March 2022.

Each of those areas emerged as points of conflict for the conference toward the start of the congressional session, ending with House GOP leaders vowing to take entitlement reforms off the table in debt ceiling negotiations, while tiptoeing around cuts to defense.

At the same time, other Republicans have continued to try to lessen the importance of a budget in the party’s strategy around the debt limit. 

While estimates vary, Congress is expected to have until sometime in the summer to raise the debt limit. 

But Democrats are insistent on passing a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling — a call that has been met with fierce pushback from Republicans who say any action upping the roughly $31.4 trillion threshold must be paired with spending cuts or some kind of fiscal reform.

With negotiations stalled between the White House and House Republicans, McCarthy has signaled the conference will move on its own with a debt ceiling bill if Democrats don’t come to the bargaining table. 

“The Republican majority will pass at the appropriate time, a debt ceiling bill that includes us spending reforms, debt reforms, to guarantee prosperity for generations to come in this country,” Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said on Monday.

On the matter of a budget resolution, however, Emmer said he didn’t “see any issue with that.” But he also didn’t commit to the House Republicans passing a budget plan anytime soon.

“I think Jodey Arrington has received a very strong response from our membership,” he added.

Check back to tomorrow for more coverage of the House GOP’s first 100 days in power.

Emily Brooks and Mike Lillis contributed.

Tags Jodey Arrington Kevin McCarthy Steve Scalise

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