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House Republicans Assemble Spending Cuts, Mull Budget Vote

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Washington, May 2, 2016 | comments
Virginia Republican Dave Brat, a member of the Budget Committee who voted against reporting the budget out of committee, said he was more optimistic about the chances of success after the conference meeting. “It was the first time that the dominant message in the conference went from a debate between the $1.07 [trillion] vs. the $1.04 [trillion] thing to just a more realistic acknowledgement that we’re going to find a way to compromise and get the budget done,” Brat said. “And so I felt pretty positive that we really are looking for a way to get things done.”
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House Republicans Assemble Spending Cuts, Mull Budget Vote
By Paul M. Krawzak and Jennifer Shutt, CQ Roll Call

A legislative package that would cut $30 billion in mandatory program spending has been put together and is ready to go should House Republican leaders get the votes to adopt a fiscal 2017 budget resolution when they return from recess.

At the same time, several GOP lawmakers are urging leaders to bring the budget to a vote the week of May 9 despite uncertainty about whether there will be enough support to adopt it. The lengthening stalemate has them frustrated and pushing for action.

“If we were a football team, we’d be a team that’s been in a huddle the whole time, can’t call a play,” appropriator Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said Friday. “So my recommendation was that we call a play.”

The day before, Budget Committee member Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., told CQ Roll Call that the budget should be put on the floor as is. “We have a plan,” he said. “We passed it out of committee. I think we should put that vote up on the board, actually have a vote.”

GOP leaders have not given any indication whether they would bring the budget to the floor after the House returns next week.

The $30 billion sidecar, as the package of cuts is called, is the centerpiece of efforts to build enough support to adopt the budget resolution (H Con Res 125), which remains a dicey proposition at best.

“It’s ready to go,” House Budget Chairman Tom Price of Georgia said of the sidecar after GOP lawmakers met behind closed doors to discuss the budget last week. “It’s what’s come through the committees.” The budget resolution, reported out of committee more than a month ago, on March 16, calls for a supplementary package of mandatory spending cuts that would save at least $30 billion over two years and at least $140 billion over a decade.

Sidecar Specifics
Price described the mandatory spending cuts package as an amalgamation of legislation that was marked up by the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Financial Services committees.

Proposed cuts in those bills would change how often states can use the Medicaid provider tax when trying to increase Medicaid payments, dissolve the 2010 health care law’s (PL 111-148, PL 111-152 ) Prevention and Public Health Fund and require people claiming the refundable child tax credit to use a Social Security number instead of an individual taxpayer identification number, among other measures.

Some lawmakers described the sidecar as fluid, meaning additional proposals could be added to it.

One person who is plugged in to budget developments said there is a suspicion the sidecar includes, or could include, cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. GOP lawmakers and staff declined to say whether that is the case. House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway of Texas said in the past that he had submitted possible cuts for a package, but he did not say what they were and the committee never held a markup.

Price continued to express optimism the votes will be there to adopt the budget as early as the week of May 9. “That’s the goal,” he said.

In a lighter moment, the Budget chairman seemed to acknowledge at least a small degree of impatience. Price has routinely described his efforts to pass the budget as akin to finding the right combination of ingredients for a stew to make it palatable to at least 218 House Republicans.

Asked when the stew would be ready to serve, he said, “It’s been in the Crock-Pot about long enough.”

After May 15
If no budget resolution is adopted, the 1974 budget law (PL 93-344) allows the House to consider appropriations bills after May 15 without either a budget or a deeming resolution. A deeming resolution provides enforceable spending limits in the absence of a budget resolution.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said that, lacking a budget, fiscal 2017 appropriations bills will be brought to the floor after May 15. “That’s the plan,” the Kentucky Republican told CQ last week.

While just about every House Republican says it is important to adopt a budget, dozens of conservatives oppose the current tax and spending framework due to its $1.07 trillion discretionary spending topline for fiscal 2017 set in last year’s budget deal (PL 114-74). That is $30 billion higher than the previous $1.04 trillion level derived from the 2011 deficit reduction law (PL 112-25) that included spending caps known as sequestration.

Maybe Not
Appropriator Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, pulled no punches when asked if he had any optimism that the votes could be assembled to adopt the budget. “No, because we haven’t been able to do it so far,” he said. “Some people won’t vote for it if it’s not at sequestration levels.”

GOP leaders and lawmakers have traded numerous proposals for winning support for the budget at the $1.07 trillion level, including the sidecar, rules changes and other cost-saving measures.

But as one GOP aide noted, many of the proposals that have been floated might gain votes from critics of the budget but at the same time would lose the votes of some current supporters.

Some members of the House Freedom Caucus, which came out against the budget, are insisting that any mandatory spending cuts be signed by President Barack Obama to get their support for a budget. GOP leaders have told the conference they cannot guarantee that the Senate would take up the mandatory cuts package.

John Fleming, R-La., reiterated his opposition to the sidecar on the grounds that it would die in the Senate. “I see it as, again, more shell games, smoke and mirrors,” he said. “Why don’t we just be honest?"

Virginia Republican Dave Brat, a member of the Budget Committee who voted against reporting the budget out of committee, said he was more optimistic about the chances of success after the conference meeting.

“It was the first time that the dominant message in the conference went from a debate between the $1.07 [trillion] vs. the $1.04 [trillion] thing to just a more realistic acknowledgement that we’re going to find a way to compromise and get the budget done,” Brat said. “And so I felt pretty positive that we really are looking for a way to get things done.”

2017 Budget Budget State of Play

The $1.15 trillion omnibus spending package (PL 114-113) signed into law Dec. 18, 2015, marked the end of a contentious debate over fiscal 2016 government funding. But early optimism for a smoother fiscal 2017 cycle quickly evaporated amid internal disputes over government spending within the House Republican conference.

The bipartisan budget agreement reached in October 2015 (PL 114-74) allowed for an extra $30 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2017, divided evenly between defense and domestic spending. Under the agreement, the budget caps were set at $551 billion for defense and $518.5 billion for nondefense, for a total of $1.07 trillion in discretionary dollars. That number was too high for a large contingent of House Republicans who preferred the original $1.04 trillion allowed under the 2011 budget law (PL 112-25).

The budget deal was opposed on the House floor by two-thirds of the GOP conference in October, and conservative coalitions including the House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee have continued to oppose it in 2016. Those groups urged new Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Budget Chairman Tom Price to disregard the deal – which was forged under Ryan’s predecessor, former Speaker John A. Boehner – when crafting a budget resolution for fiscal 2017.

But appropriators on both sides of the aisle warned that reneging on the bipartisan agreement would immediately end any chance of passing individual appropriations bills, a top priority for Ryan in his first year wielding the speaker’s gavel.

In the Senate, Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi announced in early March that the Budget Committee would effectively abandon a fiscal 2017 budget resolution. A provision in the October budget deal allows Enzi to simply file the spending toplines under the agreement and give Senate appropriators the go-ahead to craft spending bills that reflect the higher budget caps. No such provision is available to the House.

Skipping a full fiscal framework would enable senators up for re-election in November 2016 to dodge contentious votes on a budget proposal. But it also could take off the table the potential for using the expedited reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to consider budget-related and potentially deficit-reducing legislation without the 60 votes usually needed to invoke cloture and take up legislation.

House conservatives, meanwhile, have proposed cutting $30 billion solely from the nondefense side to keep Republican defense hawks satisfied. They’ve also indicated willingness to support a budget resolution with higher discretionary spending if the resolution also provides for a matching reduction in mandatory spending – and a guarantee that those mandatory cuts would be enacted before allowing the higher discretionary spending.

But any efforts to slash entitlement programs are likely to be blocked by Senate Democrats, so the promise of mandatory cuts is unlikely to provide Republican leaders with a path out of the dispute. Even so, House committees including Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Agriculture and Judiciary have forged ahead with drafting legislation to form a standalone package of mandatory cuts meant to ease passage of a budget resolution.

The House Budget Committee advanced a budget resolution in mid-March, with only two Republicans on the panel opposed. The document provided for $1.07 trillion in discretionary spending accompanied by a provision calling for at least $30 billion in mandatory cuts over two years and at least $140 billion over a decade. But the roughly 40-member Freedom Caucus vowed to oppose the budget on the chamber floor, leaving Republican leaders scrambling for a way to consolidate GOP support behind the fiscal framework before bringing it up for a vote by the full House.

Besides the promise of mandatory spending reductions, Ryan and Price are reportedly considering other changes in fiscal policy to appease conservatives. Those could include rules changes to bar expansion of mandatory programs, allowing the Appropriations Committee to cut mandatory programs in individual spending measures or strengthening prohibitions against spending money on unauthorized programs. The latest Republican idea is to create a budgetary mechanism that would make extra discretionary spending contingent on the enactment of mandatory spending cuts.

Ryan and Price have also tried to tempt conservatives to unify behind a budget resolution by promising to use spending bills to achieve conservative policy victories through appropriations riders. But widespread skepticism about the prospects for a productive appropriations process with or without a budget resolution have diminished the effectiveness of that argument.

House leaders continued to gauge support for floor passage of a budget as Congress left town in late March for its spring recess.

Appropriators have maintained that they will continue their work on spending bills that reflect the higher toplines set by the October budget agreement. The House Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee marked up its fiscal 2017 spending bill before leaving town, the first bill to be considered in either chamber.

President Barack Obama released his final budget proposal on Feb. 9, 2016, a $4.23 trillion proposal for fiscal 2017 that was met with widespread criticism from Republicans. The administration cited proposals for cancer research, combating drug addiction and expanding tax credits as areas for potential bipartisan support.

The budget is partly funded with $3.64 trillion in revenue. The administration projects $4.15 trillion in actual spending measured as outlays during the fiscal year, resulting in a deficit of $503 billion. The budget brings about the end of an era of declining deficits, a trend Obama has often cited as an achievement of his presidency. For the first time since the financial crisis in 2009, the budget deficit as a share of the economy will rise, reaching 2.9 percent of gross domestic product, according to projections from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Before release of the budget, Price and Enzi broke with a 40-year tradition of inviting an administration official, in this case OMB Director Shaun Donovan, to appear before congressional budget writers to defend the president’s proposal. Democrats blasted the snub as an unprecedented breach of decorum.
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