“We have given leadership a plethora of ideas on how the Freedom Caucus could say yes” to 10-70, Meadows tells me, noting that he has spent an absurd amount of time trying to find a path forward—especially considering he’s not even on the budget committee.
By Brat’s estimate, the caucus has put forth around three-dozen compromise proposals. But so far, he says, leadership is not offering any feedback. “It’s very frustrating.”
“We keep throwing out ideas,” confirms Representative Scott Garrett, another Budgeteer. “But we’re not hearing back.”
Now, budget aficionados may note that, earlier this month, $30 billion in entitlement cuts were, in fact, packaged into a separate bill that Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price decreed was “ready to go.” The plan is for the package to be a “sidecar” that would accompany the budget resolution through the legislative process.
That would be a lovely solution, say caucus members, if only the sidecar had any chance in hell of surviving the trip. Which it does not. (Freedom Caucusers may be zealots, but they are not idiots.) “No one really anticipates that the sidecar has much of a chance in the Senate,” says Garrett. Weakly linking cuts to the budget resolution—which is itself non-binding—is pointless, he observes. “You have to get that $30 billion into some must-pass piece of legislation.”
Here again, caucus members have been full of suggestions. Some favor linking the cuts to FAA reauthorization, or maybe the funding bill for military construction and the VA. “These are things everybody wants to pass,” says Brat.
Meadows thinks he has the perfect solution: Attach any compromise to the legislation helping Puerto Rico restructure its debt. “As a member from North Carolina, if I did not act on Puerto Rico I would probably get points instead of demerits,” he says. “But it seems to be a priority for the administration and even some in a bipartisan way here on Capitol Hill.” If for some reason the bill comes up without the agreed upon compromise proposal, members could refuse to support it without too much blowback. “That way you’re not shutting down FAA. Not doing away with food stamps. It becomes an issue that you can walk away from if it doesn’t pass.”
For its part, the speaker’s office insists that productive negotiations are ongoing. Ryan’s press secretary AshLee Strong tells me, “Members had a good budget conference before the recess—taking in ideas from many members, including those in the Freedom Caucus—and we plan to resume that conversation this week.”
But Freedom Caucusers are not optimistic about the situation turning out well, especially after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy indicated that there would not be a budget vote this week. After May 15, the House is free to start moving funding bills without a budget resolution, and pretty much everyone assumes they will begin moving at the 10-70 level. Eventually, predicts Garrett, appropriations will grind to a halt altogether, and Congress will have to deal yet again with a continuing resolution in September. The whole process will, as usual, wind up being a colossal mess—one for which Freedom Caucus members are well aware that they will likely be blamed.
For the most part, they are okay with that. But they want everyone to understand that they did not just sit around obstructing leadership’s efforts to make something happen. They tried to play nicely. They really did. “But there are only so many proposals you can make and get ‘no’s to,” says Meadows. “Ultimately, you’ve got to stand your ground.”