Welcome to the House GOP improv.
After changing course repeatedly in the last week, House Republicans are gearing up for a vote Wednesday on two different budgets. The second blueprint, with increased money for the Pentagon, has won the crucial support of some fiscal hawks, to go along with the defense hawks who agitated for the extra funding. And GOP leadership aides expressed confidence that the second budget would pass, giving the party a much-needed legislative win after a rocky first few months of the 114th Congress.
This certainly wasn't the plan last Wednesday, when the House Republican budget stalled in committee amid internal strife. Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price resisted pressure from leadership to increase his allocation for defense without offsetting the spending. That prompted leaders to whip behind his back for an amendment to infuse extra money into the Defense Department's coffers. But they miscounted, the amendment failed, and the party scrambled for a new strategy to ensure that a vote on the budget comes before an upcoming two-week recess.
The initial talk among GOP leaders was that the additional defense money would be added to the budget in the Rules Committee. Then on Monday evening, the newest strategy emerged: Put Price's plan on the floor, along with another that nearly mirrors Price's budget, but with increased funding for the Pentagon (a fiscal 2016 budget that members are calling "Price Two").
Several members of the House Freedom Caucus, including the chairman, say they'll vote for Price Two. The conservative caucus has been a thorn in leadership's side since its formation earlier this year, voting against party wishes during the feud to fund the Homeland Security Department.
Emerging from a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio told reporters he would vote for all three Republican plans on the floor later this week and that he supports this new process that allows all members to vote for the budget they favor. (The House will hold a series of votes on six different budgets: the one reported out of committee, a similar version that adds more money for defense, a Republican Study Committee plan, a House Democratic Caucus budget, one from the Progressive Caucus, and another from the Congressional Black Caucus.
While Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona said he prefers "Price One," he'll vote for the budget with plussed-up money for defense in the event the first one fails. Because, he said, there are other more important things to consider.
"The thing that appeals to me more than anything is how important it is to get to reconciliation," Salmon, a Freedom Caucus member, said. "I campaigned when I came back here with my heart and soul to get rid of Obamacare, and it's the one shot that we've got to get something on his desk."
And Salmon believes that many of his colleagues can get on board with the revised budget.
"There are a few that probably don't agree," he said, "but I think the vast majority of my more conservative colleagues will probably end up voting for it. That's my guess."
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., who defeated then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 primary, said he preferred Price's committee-passed budget, but that he was "probably a 'yes,' 'yes,' and 'yes' " on anything that moves Republicans toward the reconciliation process.
For many Republicans, who promised voters that a GOP Congress could deliver a budget through regular order, there is an overwhelming sense that if there was ever an issue to go along with"“even if it means allocating more money than many are comfortable with—this is it.
"I support the Budget Committee's product, but if the will of the body is to not pass that, I will support the final budget as well," said Rep. Martin Stutzman, R-Ind. "We have to have a budget."
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said passing a budget might give leadership a chance to start reversing the narrative that a Republican majority is stumbling through the legislative process rather than effectively governing. Leadership has failed to get members in line since the beginning of the year on issues from abortion legislation to the Homeland Security Department funding bill.
"There is a lot on the line this week, probably more than any other time in terms of since Republicans took the majority," Coffman said.
No everyone is sold on the leadership's plan. Rep. Walter Jones plans to vote against both the Price One and Price Two budgets.
"This way, we're trying to give some exceptions. If we continue to give exceptions, we will never get a handle on this budget," the North Carolina Republican said. "I think in time we're headed for a collapse. I really do."
Other Republicans have decided the trade-off is worth it to increase funding for national defense.
"I wish that the Budget Committee was proposing a bill that would pay for the cost of national defense," said Rep. Mo Brooks, who will vote for Price Two. "Unfortunately they abdicated their responsibility with respect for paying for our national defense, putting us in a bad position of either having to increase the deficit or risk national security."