House Republicans are still trying to reach consensus on a budget resolution that would guide their spending decisions, with a new proposal being considered to shave $30 billion off the budget until the House passes at least 10 spending bills.
At the same time, some conservative Republicans say they will vote for at least some of the appropriations bills that have begun moving through the House this week at higher budget levels.
One idea being floated for a budget resolution would call for setting the top line of the budget at $1.04 trillion, the figure favored by conservative Republicans, but include a “trigger” provision that would allow the budget to be increased to the full $1.07 trillion if the House passes at least 10 spending bills.
“That’s gaining a lot of support among conservative members, feeling like if we get back to the normal appropriations process it gives control back to members of Congress and that the increase in spending would be a minor exchange for getting back to regular order,” House Freedom Caucus founding member Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said in an interview.
House Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas, confirmed that the “trigger” idea is one under discussion.
“There’s some pros about it and some cons about it,” he said, declining to elaborate because he didn’t want his views to be conflated with the opinions of the more than 170 RSC members.
A budget deal that the House and Senate passed in October, over the objection of a majority of Republicans, raised the fiscal 2017 spending limit to $1.07 trillion. Conservatives in the House have objected to the idea of adopting a budget at that level, arguing that Congress needs to show some spending restraint given the growing deficit. They want to return to the sequestration level of $1.04 billion.
House leaders had argued that adopting a budget at $1.07 trillion, as agreed to in the budget deal, would give the House its best chance to pass appropriations bills that could pass muster in the Senate and reach President Barack Obama’s desk.
The “trigger” proposal effectively flips that argument on its head and asks leadership — which started the year with a goal of passing all 12 appropriations bills — to prove that the House can function. Last year the chamber passed only six of the 12 spending bills.
House GOP leaders proposed a separate bill to cut $30 billion from mandatory savings as a “side car” to the budget, but that failed to win enough support from conservatives to get leadership to the magic number of 218 Republicans they would need to approve a budget resolution without Democratic votes.
GOP leaders proposed to create a separate bill to cut $30 billion from mandatory savings, but that failed to win enough support from conservatives to get leadership to the magic number of 218 Republicans they would need to approve a budget resolution with Democratic votes.
Conservatives said the prior proposals fell short because even if the Senate were also to pass the package of cuts, which is unlikely, President Barack Obama wouldn’t sign them into law.
“It has to be real; it has to reduce the deficit,” said Rep. David Brat, R-Va., who is a member of both the Budget Committee and Freedom Caucus.
Brat said he wasn’t familiar with the “trigger” proposal but liked that it would start with the budget at the lower $1.04 trillion top line.
“My answer will be if it lowers the deficit, yes,” he said of the proposal.
Meadows and Flores both said they’re part of a small group of members discussing a budget resolution, despite the fact that budget rules allow the House to proceed on appropriations bills without an overall blueprint as of May 15.
“Everybody is still working in good faith to get something done,” Flores said.
Asked what the timeline is, Flores said, “Whatever it takes.”
Brat said he believes the House needs to vote on a budget resolution even if the votes aren’t there to approve one.
“You can’t go off doing approps bills when you haven’t allowed a vote and held our feet to the fire,” he said. “That’s the part we’re missing.”
But this week the House has begun the process of bringing appropriations bills to the floor. The chamber began debate Wednesday on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, the first of 12 total spending bills.
Although that bill and the others the Appropriations Committee has been preparing are being written to the $1.07 trillion top-line number, conservatives say they can still support some of the measures.
“I think there are number of the bills that will gain support of the Freedom Caucus,” Meadows said. “We’re going to judge each appropriations bill on its own merits. There may be some riders that we can work with the Appropriations Committee on that will get us to look at the content of the riders more than the amount of the top-line number.”
Freedom Caucus founding member Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., confirmed this strategy, saying that some members might be willing to vote for bills written to he higher top-line if they include enough conservative policy riders — provisions included in appropriations bills that reflect changes in policy unrelated to spending.
“We’re asking that some of the good rider bills go first,” Mulvaney said. “Energy and Water is a really good bill because that’s where the EPA riders are. Financial Services is a really good bill — that’s where the IRS riders are.”
Another bill ripe for conservative riders is the Labor and Health and Human Services appropriations bill. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that puts together that bill said he is open to including riders, like ones promoting pro-life positions, but members can’t ask for them and then vote against the bill.
“The people that demand these things have to be willing to put up the votes for them,” Cole said. “In committee, I have no doubt they will. Whether they will on the floor, I don’t know yet.”