BALTIMORE — With President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address in the rear view mirror, Republicans gathering at the Inner Harbor this week will have the 2016 elections on their minds.
And that includes how to best set up the GOP for the next year should elections go their way, up and down the ballot. "We can look at 2017 and where do we want to go, and what needs to be finished this year," Oklahoma GOP Sen. James Lankford said ahead of the annual issues retreat. "There are rare moments in Congress to be able to lift up and look at the horizon. And my hope is that we'll be able to look on the horizon and say where is it that we need to go and what are the specific steps to be able to get there, on policy issues not on politics."
Key to that broader view, several members said, is passing a budget resolution that would give Republicans more say on fiscal matters
. House budget leaders say they plan to mark up a resolution by the end of February, but it’s unclear yet whether the Senate will pass its own resolution.
If both chambers pass and reconcile a budget, they can use reconciliation instructions — a budget tool that allows the Senate to pass legislation without threat of a filibuster — to send GOP priority legislation to President Obama, or even the next president.
"We haven't gamed that out yet," Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune said.
Passing a budget with reconciliation instructions would be particularly important if the GOP realizes its dream 2016 electoral scenario: holding on to their tenuous grip on the Senate majority despite an unfavorable map and winning the White House. Under such a scenario, the budget resolution and ensuing reconciliation process could give a new GOP president a road map to an agenda for the first 100 days.
The process would be the most efficient way, for instance, to pass a rollback of the Affordable Care Act that could be signed into law, though at that point Republicans would actually need replacement legislation.
The downside to working through the budget reconciliation process
would be the time-consuming and contentious debates need to reach agreement on the measure, especially in a year when broad spending levels have already been set by a bipartisan agreement reached in October 2015.
Thune said he wasn't sure what Senate Republicans would do. "I don't think we have been that inspired or that devious just yet," Thune, R-S.D., told reporters. "Technically, you could. You know, a lot of times that reconciliation vehicle's still available the following year."
House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Republican appropriator and leadership ally who serves on the Budget Committee, said Wednesday that the groundwork is already beginning on the budget resolution for fiscal 2017. Despite interest in adopting a resolution that defines the budget, Cole said he doesn't expect Congress to try to pass another reconciliation measure this year.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said there would be an interest in using reconciliation again, perhaps to pass an overhaul of the welfare system, but Cole noted that the procedure is really a more effective tool in the Senate.
"I think there’s a lot of worry on our side of the rotunda when it’s not anything honestly we can do much about other than express an opinion," Cole said.
Because of the speaker's prerogatives to act through the House Rules Committee, there's no real advantage to the House itself in using the reconciliation process. The benefits are all on the Senate side, where a reconciliation bill can be used to avoid a filibuster; as such it is the rare opportunity to get a bill to the president's desk without needing 60 votes.
That's how Republicans put their veto of the Affordable Care Act on Obama's desk last week, only to see it vetoed within days. With the possibility of a Republican president next year, the reconciliation process could allow swift action on GOP priorities.
Cole anticipated that the budget resolution itself could move through the House committee around Feb. 25 , with top-line spending levels for the next fiscal year already agreed upon and the GOP leadership in both chambers wanting to begin considering appropriations measures.
According to Cole, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., asked Republican members of the panel to use the fiscal 2017 figure
s agreed upon in a bipartisan budget deal approved in October 2015.
"He said, 'I would expect that we keep our agreement. What you want to do in the out years, that’s another matter because we don’t have an agreement there,'" Cole said.
To be sure, many Republicans opposed the bipartisan agreement in the first place, because it provides funding above sequester caps. So building a budget resolution around those spending could be a test in its own right, a point Jordan made Wednesday morning.
"The number that 179 Republicans voted against just three months ago is a number that many people want to write the budget to, and so there are lots of us in the House that have concerns about that," the Ohio Republican said.
"Typically it’s going to be a majority party exercise," said Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. "We didn't have a single Democrat vote our budget last year. It was all Republicans. You have to have nearly every Republican voting for it in order for it to pass. One of the problems with coming up with the higher numbers that they came up with, that completely busted through the Budget Control Act caps, that was done without the support of a whole lot of Republicans."
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. Contact Lesniewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski. Contact McPherson at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @lindsemcpherson. Related: Reconciliation Hasn't Always Been a Street Fight See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. NEW! Download the Roll Call app for the best coverage of people, politics and personalities of Capitol Hill.