U.S. Rep. Paul Broun has declared the House Republican budget proposal insufficiently conservative, positioning himself once again to the right of his potential Republican competitors for the U.S. Senate.
The vote scheduled Thursday provides the latest measuring stick of how much other Senate-eyeing House members hew their voting records to that of the arch-conservative Broun, which will shape the race over the next year and a half.
Put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the plan balances the budget within 10 years, repeals the Affordable Care Act and imposes major revisions on the Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs.
It’s not enough for Broun, of Athens, who said allowing an increase in federal spending in future years is too much to bear. And he’s saying it to anyone who will listen, from interviews to an op-ed article in The New York Times.
Broun voted for the Ryan budget in 2011, even though it spent far more than this year’s version. Broun said he did so as a show of support for the new House’s first big attempt at a Medicare overhaul. He missed the vote last year because a meeting ran long but said he would have been a “no.”
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta – also a likely Republican candidate for Senate – said Tuesday he was undecided and still needed to look at the details of the budget. Gingrey has voted for the GOP budget for the past two years.
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah, another all-but-certain Republican Senate candidate, said he continues to support the Ryan budget.
Running to the right is typical for GOP primaries, but Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint said Broun’s positioning is the kind of thing that gives some Republicans chills.
“The fear is twofold: First the fear is that Paul Broun is going to get nominated, and second of all that whoever does get nominated, like (last year’s Republican presidential nominee) Mitt Romney, is going to be pulled so far to the right that it makes them vulnerable,” Swint said. “That may be truer in other places than in Georgia, but conceivably that could still happen in Georgia. It’s not outside the realm of possibility.”
Broun said his position has nothing to do with senatorial politics.
“We have to cut spending, and the Ryan budget does not do that,” he said. “It just slows the growth of spending. And we are headed to an economic meltdown, a financial meltdown as a nation, if we don’t stop spending money.”
Only 10 Republicans last year voted against the budget proposal, which has no chance of becoming law in the present divided government but is a broad enunciation of GOP principles ahead of the impending fiscal struggle over raising the debt ceiling.
Broun, Kingston and Gingrey all recently voted against a bill to fund the government through September after conservative outside groups raised a ruckus because it did not remove funding for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. There is no such ruckus around the Ryan budget: Influential conservative groups Club for Growth and Heritage Action have not made it a “key vote” for their scorecards, though some consider it flawed.
“Accelerating the path to balance is important, though we’d prefer a lower revenue target and more in the way of entitlement reform,” said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler.
The Ryan budget has been a crucial part of the Republican brand since before the party retook the House in 2010. Variations on it passed the House in 2011 and 2012 on party-line votes, and Ryan’s position as Congress’ pre-eminent conservative budget wonk positioned him to be Romney’s pick as a running mate last year.
His budget documents have drawn near-unanimous Republican support, despite some unease from moderates about his proposal to move Medicare to a voucher-like “premium support” system for future beneficiaries and from conservatives who want less spending.
This year’s document balances the budget in the shortest time yet, getting to surplus in 2023, a major coup for conservatives. It saves $4.6 trillion over the next decade compared to present policy, but the yearly dollar amount of spending does grow, largely due to Medicare and Social Security.
When asked about Broun’s view that the cuts should have been deeper, Kingston replied, “Well, this budget is probably going to have a difficult time getting past the Senate, so you can say it should cut even more, but we still have to get bills passed.”
Since U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced in January that he would not seek re-election, Broun is the only declared candidate for his seat, though Kingston and Gingrey have strongly indicated they will run. U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, is publicly on the fence and has said he will decide in May. Price helped shape the budget plan as vice chairman of the Budget Committee under Ryan, and he supports it.
Others outside Congress, including former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, could enter the Senate race as well.
Gingrey said he likes the big goals and reforms in the Ryan plan, but “I want to look for anything in the details that would cause me some heartburn.”
Asked whether it made a difference that Broun was voting no, Gingrey replied, “I didn’t know that.”