12.13.2013 0

Did House leaders embrace the budget deal before they ever saw it?

Photo Credit: republicanconference/Flickr

Photo Credit: republicanconference/Flickr

By Robert Romano

“When you criticize something and you have no idea what you’re criticizing, it undermines your credibility.”

That was House Speaker Rep. John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) take on tea party and other conservative organization leaders that criticized a proposed budget deal prior to its announcement over concerns that it “would violate Congress’ promise on discretionary spending caps and increase federal revenue.”

Turns out those leaders, including Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens who signed the letter, were correct. The proposed legislation would increase federal spending by $57 billion over the next two years in excess of the spending caps agreed to under sequestration in 2011, and includes new fees and revenues totaling more than $32 billion over the coming decade.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) even had the gall to claim the bill “does not raise taxes.”

And then it turns out, the bill may also make it harder for the Senate minority to block future spending increases in violation of the sequester spending caps with 60 vote thresholds.

A Dec. 12 statement from Sen. Jeff Session (R-Ala.) warned of the provision in the Ryan-Murray legislation: “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.”

Sessions called it a “crucial tool,” and noted three occasions in the recent past where the obscure point of order requiring 60 votes had been used to block what he called “tax-and-spend bills” on a veterans bill in September 2012, on the Sportsmen’s Act in November 2012, and on a banking bill in December 2012.

“Republican Senators just saw our confirmation rights eviscerated when the Majority Leader deployed the nuclear option,” Sessions lamented, adding, “This provision clearly eliminates a very significant power of Senators to block legislation that violates spending limits.”

Heartland Institute senior fellow Ben Domenech suggested that House negotiators did not catch the change to Senate procedure: “There’s no way Ryan intended for this change to happen. Only Senate side folks pay attention to such things. Had to be an oversight.”

Sessions agreed in his statement, speculating, “Perhaps the House didn’t understand what the impact would be.”

This raises the prospect, then, that House leadership embraced the budget deal before they ever saw it, even while Boehner was out there chastising groups that apparently had a better idea of how bad it was.

After all, it is rather unbelievable that budget hawk Ryan would have ever agreed to this provision making it easier to hike spending had he understood it, meaning he and House negotiators could have been bamboozled.

The alternative was the House knew this would make it simpler to breach the spending caps under sequester on the Senate side and went along with it anyway — because they didn’t care.

Neither is good.

But to criticize groups for attempting in a good faith manner to get information out to the American people in advance of a critical budget deal affecting the next two fiscal years when organizations, news outlets, and legislators had less than 48 hours to find out what was in it once announced — in violation of Republicans’ 2010 Pledge to America — is both unfair and misplaced.

That obscure, objectionable provisions are being brought to light only after the fact is just the icing on the cake. And yes, it undermines the House’s credibility.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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