By Paul M. Krawzak and Jennifer Shutt, CQ Roll Call
A legislative package that would cut $30 billion in mandatory program spending has been put together and is ready to go should House Republican leaders get the votes to adopt a fiscal 2017 budget resolution when they return from recess.
At the same time, several GOP lawmakers are urging leaders to bring the budget to a vote the week of May 9 despite uncertainty about whether there will be enough support to adopt it. The lengthening stalemate has them frustrated and pushing for action.
GOP leaders have not given any indication whether they would bring the budget to the floor after the House returns next week.
The $30 billion sidecar, as the package of cuts is called, is the centerpiece of efforts to build enough support to adopt the budget resolution (H Con Res 125), which remains a dicey proposition at best.
“It’s ready to go,” House Budget Chairman Tom Price of Georgia said of the sidecar after GOP lawmakers met behind closed doors to discuss the budget last week. “It’s what’s come through the committees.” The budget resolution, reported out of committee more than a month ago, on March 16, calls for a supplementary package of mandatory spending cuts that would save at least $30 billion over two years and at least $140 billion over a decade.
Price described the mandatory spending cuts package as an amalgamation of legislation that was marked up by the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Financial Services committees.
Proposed cuts in those bills would change how often states can use the Medicaid provider tax when trying to increase Medicaid payments, dissolve the 2010 health care law’s (PL 111-148, PL 111-152 ) Prevention and Public Health Fund and require people claiming the refundable child tax credit to use a Social Security number instead of an individual taxpayer identification number, among other measures.
Some lawmakers described the sidecar as fluid, meaning additional proposals could be added to it.
One person who is plugged in to budget developments said there is a suspicion the sidecar includes, or could include, cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. GOP lawmakers and staff declined to say whether that is the case. House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway of Texas said in the past that he had submitted possible cuts for a package, but he did not say what they were and the committee never held a markup.
Price continued to express optimism the votes will be there to adopt the budget as early as the week of May 9. “That’s the goal,” he said.
In a lighter moment, the Budget chairman seemed to acknowledge at least a small degree of impatience. Price has routinely described his efforts to pass the budget as akin to finding the right combination of ingredients for a stew to make it palatable to at least 218 House Republicans.
Asked when the stew would be ready to serve, he said, “It’s been in the Crock-Pot about long enough.”
After May 15
If no budget resolution is adopted, the 1974 budget law (PL 93-344) allows the House to consider appropriations bills after May 15 without either a budget or a deeming resolution. A deeming resolution provides enforceable spending limits in the absence of a budget resolution.
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said that, lacking a budget, fiscal 2017 appropriations bills will be brought to the floor after May 15. “That’s the plan,” the Kentucky Republican told CQ last week.
While just about every House Republican says it is important to adopt a budget, dozens of conservatives oppose the current tax and spending framework due to its $1.07 trillion discretionary spending topline for fiscal 2017 set in last year’s budget deal (PL 114-74). That is $30 billion higher than the previous $1.04 trillion level derived from the 2011 deficit reduction law (PL 112-25) that included spending caps known as sequestration.
Appropriator Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, pulled no punches when asked if he had any optimism that the votes could be assembled to adopt the budget. “No, because we haven’t been able to do it so far,” he said. “Some people won’t vote for it if it’s not at sequestration levels.”
GOP leaders and lawmakers have traded numerous proposals for winning support for the budget at the $1.07 trillion level, including the sidecar, rules changes and other cost-saving measures.
But as one GOP aide noted, many of the proposals that have been floated might gain votes from critics of the budget but at the same time would lose the votes of some current supporters.
Some members of the House Freedom Caucus, which came out against the budget, are insisting that any mandatory spending cuts be signed by President Barack Obama to get their support for a budget. GOP leaders have told the conference they cannot guarantee that the Senate would take up the mandatory cuts package.
John Fleming, R-La., reiterated his opposition to the sidecar on the grounds that it would die in the Senate. “I see it as, again, more shell games, smoke and mirrors,” he said. “Why don’t we just be honest?"
Virginia Republican Dave Brat, a member of the Budget Committee who voted against reporting the budget out of committee, said he was more optimistic about the chances of success after the conference meeting.
“It was the first time that the dominant message in the conference went from a debate between the $1.07 [trillion] vs. the $1.04 [trillion] thing to just a more realistic acknowledgement that we’re going to find a way to compromise and get the budget done,” Brat said. “And so I felt pretty positive that we really are looking for a way to get things done.”