House Republicans will gather Friday in the Capitol to begin tackling a dispute over the fiscal 2017 budget between GOP lawmakers who want to reduce spending, and others in the party who want to stick to a deal they made with Democrats and President Obama that raises spending beyond mandatory caps.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he is going to let his Republican conference decide on a budget number and whether to vote on an official budget at all this year.
"We are going to have a family conversation," Ryan said. "Our members are going to be given all the options and all the data and all the evidence and all of the choices in front of them. And we as a team, as the House Republican Conference, will make that decision."
Conservative Republicans say they can't support a 2015 bipartisan budget accord that raises spending by $30 billion in fiscal 2017. Total discretionary spending under the current plan would be set at $1.07 trillion.
The extra money is divided evenly between defense and domestic spending, but some GOP lawmakers say the increase should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, or by curbing the cost of entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
They point to a few GOP efforts to reduce the nation's debt, which is $19 trillion and growing. For conservatives, the debt is a particularly important problem because many of them were elected in the past decade by promising to reduce it and to rein in federal spending.
"This is Harry Reid and John Boehner's number," Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said of the $1.07 trillion budget, at an event sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Huelskamp was referring to the Senate Democratic leader and the former speaker, who cut the spending deal last year.
"We have a new speaker," Huelskamp said. "We have a real chance here. We have to convince the American people we are going to do something different here."
Ryan said Thursday he is going to let the rank and file work out a solution, rather than dictate the terms from the top, as Boehner had done in past years. Congress has until April 15 to pass a budget but is not required to do so.
"I am not going to have a speakership where I am the micromanager or the dictator of the House," Ryan said. "And so we're going to make decisions together as a team. And the members are going to help decide how we proceed."
Ryan and other GOP leaders, however, are eager to pass a budget because it would help smooth the way for consideration of all 12 appropriations bills. House and Senate GOP leaders want to move the dozen spending measures through both chambers in order to avoid an "omnibus" bill that rolls federal spending into one massive measure.
Some conservatives say they'll back the budget, but only under certain terms.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wy., said she would support the increase in spending if cuts are made elsewhere in the budget.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, also demanded reductions, arguing Thursday that if the GOP can't find $30 billion to cut from the federal budget, "then we should just hang our heads in shame."
But conservatives appear to have some faith in Ryan, who is the former chair of the House Budget Committee and a proponent of entitlement spending reform and the repeal of Obamacare.
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., who defeated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary last year, said he'd back the budget if the House would vote on Ryan's prior budget proposal.
"I can get to a yes on voting for higher numbers this year if we have a promise in writing to get to the big, bold Paul Ryan agenda," Brat said.
The cuts proposed by Ryan's past budgets would reduce spending well beyond the $30 billion increase in the fiscal 2017 budget, he said.