The House is on track to take up spending limits next month that would likely match President Joe Biden’s proposed defense and nondefense discretionary targets for next year, according to House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth.
The Kentucky Democrat said in an interview Friday afternoon that he expects House Democrats to move forward with a procedural mechanism known as a "deeming" resolution.
Yarmuth expects that measure would mirror the White House’s request, which as outlined Friday would provide a 1.6 percent increase for defense programs in fiscal 2022, to nearly $753 billion, while delivering a much larger 16.5 percent increase for domestic and foreign aid programs, to almost $770 billion.
A deeming resolution is used to set enforceable appropriations caps in the absence of statutory spending limits, which expire after the current fiscal year. A "deemer," as it's known, would need to be adopted in both chambers in order to provide enforceable spending caps for floor debate, but it doesn't go to the White House for a presidential signature.
Also, the House could adopt its own deeming resolution with different spending caps for appropriators than the Senate, at least initially.
The defense funding levels in the deeming resolution could be slightly less than in Biden's request, given the influence of progressive House Democrats who are expected to push for a lower defense number, Yarmuth said.
“We’re going to be facing pressures, certainly from many members of our caucus, to shave the defense number,” he said. He said he doesn’t expect the final defense figure to be lower than the current year's, however.
After setting the spending levels, Yarmuth said the Budget panel will be standing by to draft a “shell” fiscal 2022 budget resolution to provide reconciliation instructions for longer-term proposals top Democrats want to pass that may not receive bipartisan support.
After receiving instructions from the Budget committees, other panels can draft legislation that ultimately could avoid a Senate filibuster and pass with 51 votes, as long as the provisions adhere to certain budgetary rules.
Senate Republicans and the Biden administration have spent weeks negotiating over infrastructure spending, but a number of top Democrats are getting anxious to move on to budget reconciliation to enact more ambitious legislation than Republicans are willing to entertain.
Yarmuth said that once Democratic leaders give him the go ahead and decide on the bills they want to advance through reconciliation, he’ll begin work on a bare bones fiscal 2022 budget resolution. “We’re prepared to do a reconciliation resolution as soon as we are told,” he said.
Yarmuth’s counterpart in the Senate, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also expects Congress to move to reconciliation at some point this summer, saying in a statement Friday that he's ready to work with other Democrats and the White House to "write and to pass a reconciliation package that builds upon President Biden’s proposal as soon as possible."
Immigration in reconciliation?
Those instructions could include immigration proposals in addition to the Biden administration's proposals on infrastructure, education, child care, paid leave and more.
“I think there’s an interest in doing something on guest workers, [agricultural] workers, Dreamers, family reunification — almost every part of comprehensive immigration that you can think of, some people have an interest in doing through reconciliation,” Yarmuth said.
Which immigration proposals make it into a reconciliation package and which are left out will depend on several factors, including the impact they’d have on the federal budget.
The Senate budget reconciliation rules are stricter than those in the House and include six provisions within the so-called Byrd rule that elements of any package must comply with. One of those is a rule that says elements of the bill cannot have a “merely incidental” impact on the budget.
That's the same rule that led the Senate Democrats to remove a $15 per hour minimum wage increase from a COVID-19 package earlier this year after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it didn’t comply.
Yarmuth said the Byrd rule will be a major factor in determining if immigration proposals make it into an eventual reconciliation package.
“Whether or not they all clear the Byrd rule is a question that we haven’t yet answered. We don’t know,” Yarmuth said. “Some, I think it’s pretty clear they would because they have significant budgetary impact, but some of the other ones are more questionable.”
Setting a new debt ceiling could also be done through reconciliation, but Yarmuth said he’s trying to get better estimates for how long the Treasury Department can use so-called extraordinary measures after the current suspension expires in early August.
Yarmuth said he's still planning to bring a full fiscal 2022 budget resolution before his committee, possibly in July, even after deeming an appropriations cap and adopting what he calls a reconciliation resolution. It's unclear why that would be necessary at that point, however, and Yarmuth acknowledged it would be a heavy lift to get the necessary votes.