But crafting a budget that can bring together fractious
Republicans could be a challenge for the document's lead author,
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. He will need to bridge
divisions within the party over defense spending and wrestle with a
separate dilemma over the funding of popular social welfare
And making his budget balance in 10 years — a non-negotiable goal
for many in the party — is made far more difficult by weaker
economic growth forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office that
have reduced projected revenue by $1.4 trillion over the next
Russia's annexation of Crimea has revived a clamor among many
Republicans to restore defense spending. But a bigger Pentagon
budget would bust longstanding caps on spending and raise deficits
unless matched by deeper spending cuts elsewhere.
"We need to send a message out of the White House and Congress that
we're not going to be weak and keep cutting our military," said Iowa
Representative Steve King, who favors boosting military spending.
"That will be a pivotal moment in this budget."
The call for a leaner federal government has been a rallying cry for
Republicans, who pushed in 2011 for President Barack Obama and his
Democratic allies to accept strict curbs in so-called discretionary
spending — the money that Congress appropriates each year to run
government operations from weapons development to national parks.
These reductions were significantly deepened last year by another
$1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts known as the sequester after
Congress failed to agree on other savings. Although eased somewhat
through September 2015 by a budget deal struck late last year, the
sequester caps are due to remain in place through 2021.
Democrats accepted the cuts to domestic programs partly because
Republicans agreed that the military would share an equal amount of
pain — a delicate balance that could be upset if Ryan's budget
shifts more of the spending pie towards defense.
Representative Trent Franks, a conservative Republican from Arizona,
who describes himself as a "quintessential defense hawk," said he
would support a repeal of the automatic cuts in order to give more
money to the military.
"I'm in the camp of restoring the military because it's the first
purpose of the federal government, to defend the nation and national
security. If we don't do that, the rest is meaningless," Franks
But some other Republican lawmakers believe lower spending in all
parts of the government should take precedence.
Representative Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican from Michigan,
said that the Pentagon, with 40 percent of the world's total defense
spending, can still afford to contribute to balancing the U.S.
The Ukraine crisis "hasn't changed my thinking and it hasn't changed
the thinking of most of the more newly elected conservatives in
Congress," Amash said. "People in our armed services repeatedly tell
us at town halls that there is wasteful spending, even in the
Department of Defense."
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To achieve the goal of reining in long-term debt and deficits,
Ryan's budget is likely to revive past proposals to cut programs
that serve the low-income Americans, such as food stamps and the
Medicaid health care program for the poor.
But one tough decision Ryan faces is what to do about the Medicare
health program for senior citizens. His past budgets have adopted
cuts to the program mandated under Obama's signature healthcare
reforms, even though Republicans seek repeal of the law known as Obamacare.
Keeping the cuts would bring Republicans around $700
billion closer to balancing the budget over 10 years. But such a
decision might also undercut a central campaign message for
Republicans, who have attacked Obama's Democrats over Medicare.
Conservative groups have run ads criticizing cuts to Medicare
Advantage, which allows seniors to obtain healthcare benefits
through private insurance plans. The ads were cited as a factor that
helped in Republican David Jolly prevail against Democrat Alex Sink
in a Florida special election this month.
Ryan's budget also is widely expected to contain another version of
his controversial reforms to Medicare, converting the popular
fee-for-service program to a system of subsidies for seniors to buy
Democrats believe such drastic changes, even if phased in slowly,
would upset seniors and middle-aged voters and they will be ready
with another round of attack ads for November. Democrats want to
keep Medicare largely intact, arguing that Obamacare reforms will
help hold down healthcare spending.
Republicans are seeking take over control of the Senate from
Democrats and maintain their dominance in the House in the November
"I don't see how a Ryan budget helps them in November. You'd have to
twist Republican arms to get it," said Chris Krueger, a policy
analyst with Guggenheim Securities and a former House Republican
staffer. "All it would do for fiscal 2015 would be to provide
Democrats with campaign ads."
But Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said he thought
the budget could be a unifying document.
"It's largely a visionary document. As long it can truly save
Medicare and deal with our long-term cost problems, then I'm going
to be supportive ... I think a lot of conservatives will do that,"
(Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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