Policy

Enzi to Write New Fiscal Blueprint, but Prospects Unclear

Budget chairman suggests reconciliation instructions are not in the cards

Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi, left, speaks with Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall before the start of a Wednesday hearing on CBO oversight. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi told Roll Call on Wednesday that he is writing a fiscal 2019 budget resolution, but is not inclined to include reconciliation instructions for changes to the tax code or mandatory spending that could move through the Senate on a simple majority vote.

The Wyoming Republican’s revelation comes amid widespread doubts about whether the Senate GOP will be able to muster the support to adopt a budget resolution this year.

“I’m working on it already,” Enzi said of the annual tax and spending blueprint. “I’m an ultimate optimist. I expect to mark one up.”

The chairman offered no guarantees, saying he does not know how a markup “fits into the schedule.”

Enzi added that “everything is kind of delayed because we don’t have the numbers for last year yet.” Congress has yet to reach an agreement on spending levels or to pass a full-year appropriations bill for fiscal 2018, which began Oct. 1.

In addition to an agreement on raising discretionary spending limits above the austere levels imposed by the 2011 deficit reduction law, Enzi said he is waiting to find out how much Congress appropriates for disaster relief.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go but that has to be figured into the baseline too,” he said. “And every one of those things makes it more difficult to budget, particularly to get to any kind of a balanced budget.”

Enzi’s suggestion that reconciliation is not in the cards is significant, given that Republicans were able to gather the support to pass their previous three budget resolutions primarily because the fiscal blueprints included reconciliation instructions. The fiscal 2016 and 2017 budgets contained instructions to repeal the 2010 health care law, while the 2018 budget was written to provide a fast-track process to overhaul the tax code and cut tax rates for individuals and corporations.

Follow the leader

Enzi said reconciliation is unlikely this year “from my standpoint but I’m not the one in charge,” a reference to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Republican has said he does not expect the Senate to pursue changes in entitlement programs this year because these would not have support from Democrats. But it is unclear whether McConnell has ruled out the use of reconciliation for some other purpose such as tweaks to the tax law or repealing provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law.

“I don’t know that that’s ever been my priority,” Enzi said of reconciliation. “And I’m not sure what there is out there that could be included in one … that wouldn’t run into the major roadblocks that we have in meeting the reconciliation rules,” a reference to restrictions on the practice in budget law.

In the House, it is apparent there will be pressure from some Republicans not only to pass a budget resolution but also to use reconciliation to cut spending. Both chambers would need to adopt an identical budget resolution to use reconciliation.

Some tweaks

Enzi said he plans to continue to push for changes in the budget process as well as jump-start committee oversight this year.

After holding a score of hearings on budget changes in 2016, Enzi and the committee in 2017 agreed on a package of modest rule changes, including early release of the budget resolution, that were approved at the committee level.

Enzi said his efforts to pass budget changes through the Senate fell short in part because Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is ranking member on the committee, had not participated in the hearings. He was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

“In the short time frame we had, it made it impossible to do,” Enzi said. “But it’s not impossible to review and this might be a key year.”

During a Senate Budget Committee hearing Wednesday on oversight of the Congressional Budget Office, Enzi said he wants to appoint task forces made up of committee members whose work could lay a foundation for oversight hearings in a number of policy areas.

“One of the roles that we’re allowed to do is to hold hearings on virtually every area of government function,” he told Roll Call. “We don’t have to be the committee of jurisdiction for it.”

He said he would like to appoint task forces with at least one Republican and one Democratic member. He hasn’t appointed any yet. “I’ve made it known to both sides and I’m looking to see what kind of requests and reaction there is to that,” he said.

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