Amid virtually no interest from the Senate, Democrats in either chamber, and even other House Republicans, Budget Chairman Steve Womack is apparently pushing forward with a fiscal 2019 budget resolution this week.
The Arkansas Republican plans to begin the markup Wednesday and continue on Thursday, according to sources. The not-yet-introduced budget plan is even likely to get out of committee, based on discussions with panel members — but as to where it goes from there, prospects don’t look bright.
There is no logistical reason for GOP leaders to make adopting a budget a priority this year; February’s budget deal set statutory discretionary spending caps, obviating the need for a budget blueprint’s enforcement tools. Many Republicans don’t necessarily want to use reconciliation procedures to jam through entitlement program cuts on a party-line vote that the GOP would own politically.
And House leaders this fall are already planning a show vote this fall to extend the tax overhaul’s cuts for individuals in order to put Democrats on record opposing them — the tax cuts don’t expire until 2025, so there is no overriding reason to actually push through an extension this year.
Even if it gets out of committee as expected, with perhaps a few GOP defections, Republicans are downplaying the resolution’s chances on the House floor. That’s because many don’t want to vote for a politically toxic document that Democrats will surely campaign on given the appearance of trillions of dollars in cuts over a decade to social programs. In addition, the numbers will incorporate the February budget deal, which increases fiscal 2019 nondefense spending by 13 percent over what it would have been under the previous statutory caps.
“It’s not going to pass,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said. “I have complete support for Chairman Womack’s willingness to go forward, but I don’t think it’s anything that will be supported by conservatives.”
From the Archives: McConnell, Schumer Announce They’ve Reached Budget Agreement
So why would Womack go forward? For one thing, many House Republicans still believe it’s important to try to rein in the growth of mandatory spending programs, which the Congressional Budget Office says are driving steady increases in U.S. debt as a share of the economy. And reconciliation is the only way to do that in an environment where Senate Democrats are unlikely to go along.
And second, plain old institutional pride: The 1974 law establishing the Budget committees and the modern process says every year Congress is to adopt a budget resolution. Womack, in his first year as chairman, doesn’t want to go down in history as the first Republican chairman to take a pass on a budget while the House has been under GOP control.
Budget resolutions typically get party-line votes in committee, and then on the floor — if they get that far. In 2016, another election year, two panel Republicans including Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, voted against the initial fiscal 2017 budget resolution but it still was adopted by the committee on a 20-16 vote. However, it never made it to the floor because GOP leaders couldn’t round up the votes, though they eventually adopted a “shell” fiscal 2017 budget to expedite repeal of the 2010 health care law. Brat has also expressed doubts about supporting the budget this year if the Senate is not going to do one.
The fiscal 2018 budget resolution was a critical document because it carried reconciliation instructions for the top GOP priority of overhauling the tax code, so most Republicans were able to look past their concerns and vote for it. However the measure still had a rough go getting through the House, including an initial version that envisioned a balanced budget within 10 years and substantial cuts to mandatory programs through reconciliation that saw 18 Republicans vote ‘no’ on the floor for a 219-206 vote. The final version, which dropped the spending cuts, passed on an even slimmer 216-212 margin despite the allure of election-year tax cuts on the other end.
Against that backdrop, Republican leaders in the House are decidedly lukewarm on taking up a new budget blueprint without an overriding reason to do so. People close to House GOP leadership said they have been told the fiscal 2019 budget will be marked up in committee but no mention was made of a commitment to bring it to the floor.
No floor time?
“I’m not sure there’s any floor time,” Budget Committee member Mario Diaz-Balart said. If the budget will not be brought to the floor, the Florida Republican said, “it’s a very good question” why it should be marked up. Diaz-Balart has supported budgets in the past and planned to review the blueprint over the weekend.
Ironically, the chances that a budget resolution reported out of committee may not go anywhere could make it easier for some people to support it, since the budget would not have any consequences, such as leading to a reconciliation bill cutting mandatory spending.
Some Republican committee members who voted against the February deal raising nondefense spending — such as James B. Renacci of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida — said they expect to support Womack’s budget.
“You’ve got to start looking at mandatory programs, and I think that’s the key,” said Renacci, who is running for the Senate seat held by Democrat Sherrod Brown. “I’m glad to see that we’re starting to look to our committees to start to cut out some waste and abuse, and forcing our committees to make some adjustments to spending over the next 10 years.”
Republicans cannot use reconciliation, which allows budget related legislation to pass with a simple majority in the Senate, unless both chambers adopt the same budget resolution. Last year, the House included reconciliation instructions for $203 billion in cuts to mandatory programs, but those instructions were stripped out of the final version because of Senate opposition.
Rep. K. Michael Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, expressed little concern about Womack’s plan to include reconciliation instructions to cut agriculture programs. The Texas Republican said he and Womack have reached tentative agreement on the level of cuts that will be sought in the budget.
“Whatever their instructions are, if it’s in the range that he’s been talking to me about, we’ll find the necessary changes to the policies,” Conaway said. “We’ve got to start making hard choices across the system to be able to rein in spending.”
Of course, Conaway — who has already taken political heat for writing a five-year farm bill that shifts federal dollars away from traditional food stamp benefits — may simply be content to let the budget process play out in the House, knowing it is unlikely to come to fruition.