Republican leaders defended a modest budget deal that would maintain government operations through 2015 amid conservative opposition that could scuttle the legislation in the House.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, lashed out at conservative advocacy groups that have encouraged GOP lawmakers to oppose a budget framework unveiled last night by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
"They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals," an animated Boehner told reporters at the Capitol. "This is ridiculous."
Ryan and Murray, the top budget officials in their respective chambers, announced an agreement that would set baseline spending levels for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. The agreement calls for spending levels slightly above the cap established by the automatic spending cuts known as the "sequester" through a combination of reforms, cuts and new, non-tax revenue.
Conservative groups had been girding themselves against the deal before its details were finalized, mostly because the spending levels exceed sequester levels. The Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action -- each of them well-financed conservative advocacy groups that hold some sway over Republican primary voters -- have begun lobbying furiously against the modest government funding agreement.
"By having a budget agreement that does not raise taxes, that does reduce the deficit and produces some certainty and prevents government shutdowns -- we think is a good agreement," Ryan, the architect of the budget agreement, said after a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans.
Of the package's prospects for passage, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee added: "We feel very good at where we are with our members."
The Republican leadership's struggle to manage its restive conservative flank is a familiar storyline to any observer of Congress over the past three years. Boehner's decision to side with conservatives and drive a hard bargain over government spending and the Affordable Care Act contributed in large part to the government shutdown in October that nearly threatened default on the national debt.
If conservatives balk at supporting the legislation, Boehner would need to turn to Democrats to help advance the package through the House. The speaker did just that in passing legislation to end the government shutdown earlier this year.
Some high-profile conservatives have already stated their opposition to the legislation, though, including two contenders for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2016: Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“We stand with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Tom Coburn, Rand Paul, members of the Republican Study Committee and every other fiscal conservative who opposes the Ryan-Murray deal,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in response. “After carefully reviewing the budget deal, on which we never commented until it was complete, we determined that it would increase the size of government. We support pro-growth proposals when they are considered by Congress. In our evaluation, this isn’t one of those.”
Liberals have also expressed their misgivings about the package because it lacks an extension of unemployment benefits. In remarks on the Senate floor praising the new budget framework, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggested he planned to bring up an unemployment benefits bill and minimum wage increase to the floor in January.