Politics

House Budget Chairman Mulls Skipping Budget Resolution

Newly installed Steve Womack says budget process may need changes

House Budget Chairman Steve Womack, left, seen here with Georgia Sen. David Perdue at the GOP retreat in West Virginia on Thursday, says the budget process is broken. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 8:13 p.m. | WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Rep. Steve Womack, Budget chairman for less than a month, is considering skipping a budget resolution  — thinking time would be better spent changing the budget process.  

“If I can read the tea leaves on what’s coming from the Senate, that doing a budget resolution that will be meaningful, that we can get House and Senate together on, is very problematic right now,” the Arkansas Republican said at a Thursday press conference here, where GOP lawmakers were having their annual retreat.  

“Of course, we add to the fact that it’s an election year and that makes it even more difficult to get things done,” he added.

The annual budget process calls for the president to submit a budget request to Congress and the chambers to use that to come up with their own budget blueprint. 

But the budget resolutions — nonbinding overviews of fiscal goals — that have come out of the House and Senate Budget committees in recent years have seen delayed floor action or none at all, or have been used as conduits for the reconciliation process to pass partisan legislation without the threat of a Senate filibuster. 

With the fiscal 2018 appropriations debate dragging on as the fiscal 2019 budget process is supposed to be getting under way, budget writers may want to turn their attention elsewhere, Womack said. 

“So my guess is that, and I can’t speak for all of my Budget Committee, but a lot of them, while they want to do resolutions, I think really have in their mind that doing budget process reform will be something that can be legacy in nature, that can serve the interests of this country for years to come,” he said. 

Womack is not totally ruling out the possibility of moving a budget resolution through the House, though.

“Anything is possible. I’m not taking that off the table,” he said. “I’m just saying that if you listen to the chatter around Washington and the Senate has been pretty adamant about the fact that with a 51-49 vote over there, that doing anything from a budget resolution standpoint is problematic. But that won’t necessarily affect what we do, but it will be a consideration as to how leadership approaches it.”

The decision will likely be left to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a former House Budget chairman. 

Until then, it’s business as usual for Womack on the Budget Committee, a panel spokeswoman later clarified. 

“The House Budget Committee has already started drafting its fiscal year 2019 budget, and Chairman Womack is wholeheartedly committed to finishing the committee’s work,” communications director Claire Burghoff said in an email.

Womack said budget process changes the GOP has talked about include “putting everything subject to appropriations, the whole ball of wax, putting caps on mandatory spending.” They also want to look at the Congressional Budget Office’s budget baseline. 

“Process reform is going to be the long pole in the tent that drives my chairmanship,” he said. 

Left unsaid is that such changes, which would need to come by altering the 1974 Budget Act and other statutes, would be a heavy legislative lift. 

Watch: Why Does Congress ‘Retreat?’

Filibuster talk

Womack’s comments came after a breakout discussion at the GOP retreat on possible changes to the budget process. During that session, Senate Republicans were again pressured to end the filibuster on spending bills. Leadership in the chamber have resisted such a move, despite increased pressure from the House and the White House. 

Womack said the rules change continues to have broad support within the House conference. 

“I speak for a large percentage of my side of the Capitol that, if we could at least make funding of the government, the appropriations of the federal government, subject to a simple majority vote and not a filibuster, we would have made major progress in our ability to do one of the most fundamental of our duties,” he said. 

Sen. David Perdue, who accompanied Womack to the presser, did not say specifically what the reaction from senators was to the House requests. 

“The budget process is broken,” the Georgia Republican said. “I think there’s a growing awareness now that something serious needs to be done to change the process and the accountability.”

Perdue said no decision has been made as to whether Republicans will attempt to advance a budget this year, adding that Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi was working on it with leadership. 

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