House Speaker John Boehner just threw Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) under the bus.
Less than two months after House GOP leadership threw their weight behind Ryan’s budget deal with Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and the cuts to veterans’ pensions it contained, they have now backed off from that support.
Boehner had originally planned to make the restoration of veterans’ pensions an exchange for the debt ceiling increase Democrats and the president want, but members in the House GOP conference like Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) were incensed by the effort. Such a move made the normally politically toxic vote to raise the debt ceiling even more painful, as voting against it would mean voting to cut veterans’ benefits. Boehner’s plan crumbled almost as quickly as it formed.
Under intense criticism, Boehner backed off. He split the restoration of veterans’ pensions from the debt ceiling increase. The House GOP gave Obama a clean debt ceiling increase proposal late Tuesday which has now passed but also passed a stand-alone piece of legislation that would restore the veterans’ pension cuts from the December Ryan-Murray budget deal. While the House approved the vets’ pension cut restoration bill, Ryan voted against it.
The veterans’ benefits cuts in the Ryan-Murray deal–which were traded for across-the-board sequester cuts that would have hit this year–were controversial because veterans were one of the only groups that were singled out for cuts in the deal.
But Boehner’s move to abandon the cuts is even more problematic for Ryan’s budget deal, because rather than trade those cuts for meaningful reforms, the spending increase was offset with sequester cuts in 2024, five election cycles from now.
Considering Congress couldn’t stand to see the sequester cuts for 2014 go into effect, offsetting new spending with similar cuts in a decade isn’t a very meaningful solution.
When Ryan joined with Murray in December, he came under fire from conservatives for the cuts to veterans’ pensions contained in the deal. Specifically, wounded warriors’ pension cuts were a hot topic of debate, and Ryan and Murray agreed to undo cuts to medically retired disabled veterans’ benefits under intense criticism.
But Ryan publicly defended cutting all other veterans’ pension benefits. Ryan took to the pages of USA Today to write an op-ed defending his decision to include cuts to vets’ benefits in the budget deal. “One part of the bill has become particularly controversial: the reduction in cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for working-age military retirees,” Ryan wrote. “The federal government has no greater obligation than to keep the American people safe and we must take care of the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line. For that reason, Congress is understandably hesitant to make changes to military compensation.”
“But even hesitance has a cost,” he claimed.
Ryan added that the need for such cuts is “undeniable,” citing recent comments from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about Department of Defense budget concerns. “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a combat vet himself, has said ‘that we can no longer put off military compensation reform. DOD’s leadership, Chairman Dempsey, the service chiefs, the service secretaries, and myself, we all know that we need to slow cost growth in military compensation. Otherwise, we’ll have to make disproportionate cuts to military readiness and modernization,'” Ryan wrote.
Ryan is still defending such cuts to vets’ pensions. In response to Tuesday’s House vote to undo his plan, he said he thinks the House vote “sidesteps” what he called “the tough choices.”
“I cannot support kicking the can down the road,” Ryan said, according to a Tweet from the Washington Post‘s Robert Costa.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) came out in support of a plan pushed by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that would restore the vets’ pensions cuts by closing a loophole that allows illegal aliens access to tax credits. Sessions’ idea has the backing of moderates like Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and scores of Senate Republicans and many members of the House GOP conference as well. Reps. Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) offered a bill in December which would do just that: close a loophole allowing illegal aliens access to the Refundable Child Tax Credit to pay for restoring veterans’ pension cuts.
The Roby-Fitzpatrick bill has widespread support in the House. Many conservatives have cosponsored it, and committee chairmen like Energy and Commerce’s Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) or Oversight’s Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) have signed on to it too.
Ryan has worked against such a plan, and Boehner has refused to endorse it. But, with Boehner now backing restoring vets’ cuts in general–regardless of the offsetting mechanism–such a plan could gain steam even more so now.
More generally, this crumbling of a major plank of the budget deal–with largely nothing in return, at least for now–has major credibility implications for Ryan among conservatives. Madison Project’s Daniel Horowitz told Breitbart News that Ryan’s hypocrisy is on display in public right now.
“There are few people who exhibit such a dichotomy between their rhetoric and their performance as Paul Ryan,” Horowitz said in an email. “He talks a great game on limited government and free markets, but when the rubber meets the road on the most consequential leverage points he is always enabling the side of bigger government.”