Congress

Enzi moving ahead with ‘realistic’ budget resolution

Senate Budget chairman says he wants to avoid gimmicks

Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi aims to write a “realistic” budget, not a gimmicky one. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Budget Committee plans to mark up a fiscal 2020 budget resolution the last week of March, setting out spending and revenue targets for the next five years.

Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, who skipped the exercise last year, said he intends to break from past practice and write a “realistic” budget which, for example, would not envision balancing or wiping out deficits.

That’s in part a function of the shorter time frame to reach balance — budget resolutions in recent years have typically covered a full decade. Enzi said projecting out five years is more realistic and less gimmicky.

“I’m planning on doing a realistic budget, not a gimmick budget, and I’m hoping that that will lead then to some budget process reform that will get us back on track, reduce spending,” the Wyoming Republican said after meeting with panel members Thursday.

When the budget resolution is unveiled, Enzi said, he hopes people “say, ‘Wow, why haven’t we been doing it that way?’”

The lack of budget balance is also an acknowledgement that the political will for deeper spending cuts, tax increases or both doesn’t exist currently.

It would take $5.2 trillion in deficit savings to balance the budget in five years, for instance, according to Congressional Budget Office baseline estimates. That’s equal to 4.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product during that period; by contrast the unsuccessful Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan in late 2010, considered too dramatic at the time, would have trimmed deficits by about 1.1 percent of GDP over its first five years, and 2.2 percent over a decade.

House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth is aiming to mark up a budget resolution in the first week of April. Like Yarmuth, Enzi said his budget resolution could help lay the foundation for negotiations over raising the austere statutory spending caps that return in fiscal 2020.

Enzi said adoption of a Senate GOP budget resolution and a House Democratic budget resolution would show “where the directions are on the two bodies” and could be the “basis for being able to do a caps deal.”

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Need for ‘buy-in’

In the past, Republicans insisted on writing budgets that balanced in 10 years through assuming trillions of dollars in cuts in spending that had little support in Congress. “I’m not going to force the issue to make it look like it will balance in 10 years because there has to be buy-in from everybody to be able to do that,” Enzi said.

Enzi said that while past budget resolutions assumed big changes in mandatory spending programs, “it actually has to be the authorizing committees that do the stuff,” and that past assumptions were not realistic.

He said he looks for a budget that assumes more realistic changes that will lead authorizers to say they “don’t want to do it, going to be tough, but yes, it needs to be done. And then we’ve got to back that up with some budget process reforms that will make the whole system work better.”

In another potential break from recent GOP practice, Enzi did not rule out revenue increases in the fiscal framework but did not say it would contain them either. “I don’t know what I have buy-in on yet,” he said.

The chairman indicated the plan is likely to assume a generous increase in war funding for the military, since under the 1974 budget law, a Senate budget resolution must hew to statutory spending caps unless backers are able to garner 60 votes to waive the requirement. The fiscal 2020 caps would lower spending limits for defense and nondefense together by $126 billion from current levels.

“In a realistic budget, you’ve got to look at what the Armed Services [Committee] is going to do and president is probably going to do, which is OCO,” he said, referring to so-called Overseas Contingency Operations funds for the Pentagon. “It’s not the best way to run government but that’s the pressure and the option and realism.”

Though Enzi said it’s possible the House and Senate could reach agreement on a budget, Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley was doubtful.

Grassley said a Republican Senate and Democratic House haven’t been able to resolve budget resolution differences in conference since the mid-1980s. “So we’re going to mark up one, but the chance of working out a unified budget based on history is not very good,” the Iowa Republican said.

Freshman GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said Enzi made the point during the closed-door meeting that while budget resolutions make recommendations to authorizing committees, the committees “still do whatever they want.”

“I think we’re going to start exposing to the American public and to everyone what dire straits we’re in” through the budget, said Indiana Republican Mike Braun, another first-year senator.

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