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House Republicans Will Consider New Budget Plan Wednesday

'Weighing and Mixing'

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Washington, May 11, 2016 | comments
CQ has learned that House Republican leaders will make a renewed push Wednesday morning to adopt a fiscal 2017 budget resolution, with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan expected to lay out a plan that would likely combine a budget resolution and a mandatory spending cuts package into a single bill.
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By Paul M. Krawzak, CQ Roll Call
CQ has learned that House Republican leaders will make a renewed push Wednesday morning to adopt a fiscal 2017 budget resolution, with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan expected to lay out a plan that would likely combine a budget resolution and a mandatory spending cuts package into a single bill.

If GOP leaders can find the votes, the bill would go to the floor the week of May 16, prior to full House consideration of the first appropriations bill, people with knowledge of the deliberations said.

After May 15, the House no longer needs to have adopted a budget resolution in order to consider appropriations bills on the floor, under the 1974 budget law.

But it would be a black eye for House Republicans if they were unable to agree on a tax and spending framework after championing the importance of controlling spending and regular order.

Lawmakers said Ryan, R-Wis., plans to describe the plan during the regular Republican conference meeting Wednesday.

Two Options
Two options are under discussion. But, according to several GOP lawmakers, the one that is most likely to go forward would combine about $30 billion in mandatory spending cuts over two years with language drawn from the budget resolution (H Con Res 125) advanced by the House Budget Committee, including its $1.07 trillion discretionary spending topline for fiscal 2017.

The spending cuts and budget resolution language would be combined into a joint resolution.

That would make the package a regular bill, and not, technically, a budget resolution. A budget resolution is a concurrent resolution, which is different from a bill in that it does not go to the president for his signature or become a law.

The other option being considered is to put both a budget resolution and the mandatory cuts package, often called a sidecar, on the floor and link them closely through a rule. The rule could specify that if both bills are not passed in the House, neither would go to the Senate.

But according to experts on legislation, the Senate could separate the two bills once it received them.

The spending cuts part of the package is drawn from legislation marked up earlier this year by the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Financial Services committees and would produce $140 billion or more in cuts over a decade. It’s possible additional changes in mandatory spending programs could be added.

'Weighing and Mixing'
GOP leaders met Tuesday night to go over the plan. “I think they’re weighing and mixing,” House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said of the discussion.

House Budget Chairman Tom Price expressed confidence about passing the budget Tuesday, while declining to describe the plan. “There’s a lot of moving parts, but I think there’s some promising things going on,” the Georgia Republican said.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, which has opposed the $1.07 trillion discretionary spending topline in the budget resolution, gathered at a separate location Tuesday night to discuss the plan and see if they could support it.

After their meeting, several members of the Freedom Caucus said the plan fell short of what they need to vote for the budget because there is no guarantee the spending cuts will be signed into law.

"We didn't decide to take a formal position but I think there's a lot of folks who aren't comfortable with the proposal," Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said. Jordan said not enough caucus members were at the meeting to take a vote.

North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows also expressed skepticism. "I think the fundamental question becomes is there a real expectation that the welded sidecar will ever be acted upon?" he asked.

Dozens of conservatives including members of the Freedom Caucus and some in the Republican Study Committee have held up adoption of a budget resolution because they oppose the topline. The topline reflects last year’s budget deal (PL 114-74), which raised the fiscal 2017 discretionary spending cap by $30 billion.

Some of them have said they would only support the budget if they could be guaranteed that President Barack Obama would sign $30 billion in spending cuts, while others said it would be enough if the spending cuts were attached to a must-pass bill. Several Freedom Caucus members called for adding the mandatory cuts to a Puerto Rico debt rescue bill.

But several conservatives said they were open to the plan, which they described as largely the brainchild of Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith, another member of the Freedom Caucus.

“If it’s Morgan’s idea, from what he’s been saying in the past, the whole premise is to get the sidecar not to be a sidecar but to attach it to the budget,” Dave Brat, R-Va., said. “And so if that’s the case, that sounds good.” Brat added that “it’s got to bring about the $30 billion in savings this year and then the $180” billion over a 10-year period.

“And if that all will happen and it’s attached to the budget that sounds good to me,” said Brat, one of two Republicans on the Budget Committee who voted against the budget resolution when it was reported out of committee in March.

Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said he, too, was taking the plan seriously because of Griffith’s involvement. “Morgan is one of the chief architects of this idea,” Sanford said, adding that Griffith “is not exactly a guy who believes in exercises in cosmetics.”

Potential Problems
But New Jersey Republican Scott Garrett, who like Brat and Sanford sits on the Budget Committee and is also a member of the Freedom Caucus, pointed out what he said were potential problems with the plan.

“If it’s linked together [through a rule] then that obviously begs the question of why wouldn’t the Senate simply bifurcate them, or actually why wouldn’t the Senate just ignore them,” he said.

The Senate already has effectively deemed enforceable spending levels – a key purpose of a budget resolution – and is considering an appropriations bill on the floor.

On the other hand, if the budget and spending cuts are combined in a single bill, Garrett said, “The Senate would probably look at that and say that’s not the budget resolution we were expecting you guys to send, so we’re not going to consider that as such.”
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