Budget Debate, Grievances Get Airing in Both Chambers

From left, Rep. Richard Neal, Sen. Ron Wyden, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer,  Rep. John Yarmuth, Rep. Barbara Lee, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Sen. Bernie Sanders conduct a news conference in the Capitol Wednesday to speak out against Republicans’ tax and budget plan that they say will benefit the wealthy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Floor action on the fiscal 2018 budget resolution — made possible by assuaging conservatives’ concerns over the emerging tax overhaul blueprint last week — officially got under way on Wednesday.

The House voted 232-188 to approve parameters for debate and moved on to formally debating the resolution. Once the House and Senate formally adopt a joint budget resolution, if they can get that far, the tax-writing committees will be able to produce filibuster-proof tax legislation through the fast-track reconciliation process.

During the first of two days of debate on the fiscal 2018 budget resolution, GOP lawmakers touted the blueprint as a way to set the country on a path to fiscal restraint and develop a better tax system, while Democrats chastised the GOP for pitching reductions in mandatory spending and safety net programs while handing out tax breaks for the rich.

Inside the Senate's Budget Resolution

“We are now in the throes of budget day,” Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall said during his opening remarks on the rule for the budget resolution.

Woodall celebrated not only the House’s tradition of debating the committee’s official budget resolution, but the four alternative budget proposals approved for consideration by the Rules Committee on Wednesday.

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, however, criticized the Republican budget for its potential impacts on infrastructure spending, health care and anti-poverty programs — and for its reconciliation instructions for a deficit-increasing tax bill. “This Republican budget is an example of the majority making things worse for the American people,” McGovern said.

Democratic leaders in both chambers Wednesday said both the House’s budget resolution and the version the Senate Budget Committee began debating Wednesday would trigger large cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, while expediting passage of unpaid-for tax cuts.

“The American people are going to hate this plan because they don’t want tax cuts for the rich and they certainly don’t want cuts to Medicare and Medicaid,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said at a news conference.

Bernie Sanders, ranking member on Senate Budget, called the GOP plan “the most horrific and destructive budget in the history of the United States of America.”

The Republican-drafted budget resolutions in the House and Senate call for trillions of dollars in entitlement cuts over the coming decade to help curb deficits.

Democrats said the plans would cut Medicare by $473 billion over 10 years while slashing Medicaid by more than $1 trillion. But a budget resolution is only a blueprint to guide spending decisions and doesn’t go to the president for his signature. It’s not clear whether Republicans would follow through on plans to slash entitlements in future spending bills.

The House will hold its final vote on the official GOP budget resolution.

Meanwhile, across the Rotunda

The Senate Budget Committee began its two-day markup Wednesday of its version of the fiscal 2018 budget resolution, with most Republicans praising the plan as the first step to a beneficial tax overhaul while Democrats blasted the still-to-be-detailed tax plan as a sop to the rich.

While the fiscal blueprint appears certain to get enough Republican votes to be approved in committee Thursday, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker threatened to oppose the follow-on tax bill later in the year if it does not reduce the deficit and is not written to be permanent.

Corker called the preparation of the budget resolution “some of the most meaningless work we do here” and a “waste of time.” But he also made clear he was not criticizing the work of Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi.

Sanders, meanwhile, lambasted the resolution’s assumption of more than $5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, citing nonbinding proposals contained within the draft, including the following:

  • More than $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and $473 billion in Medicare cuts; Over $100 billion in cuts to Pell Grants and other student financial aid programs;
  • $37 billion in cuts to Section 8 rental assistance and other housing programs;
  • $6.5 billion in reductions to the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition assistance program;
  • $4 billion cut from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program;
  • $3 billion cut to Head Start health and education services for children in low-income families.

Enzi has not yet released the resolution’s programmatic assumptions publicly; that will likely come. The assumptions are nonbinding to the committees of jurisdiction, however, and there is little sign that Republican leaders have any interest in enacting such cuts. They are included mainly to show a path towards a balanced budget on paper, in keeping with GOP pledges in recent years.

Two Democratic members of the committee criticized a provision in the plan that would repeal a rule requiring a Congressional Budget Office score of most legislation 28 hours before it is voted on. The rule is enforced by a point of order that needs 60 votes to be waived.

“You could have no score on the cost of a bill at all,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said. “That’s our reading.”

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine called the rule repeal an “anti-transparency measure.”

“We’re trying to obscure what is going on,” he said.

A GOP aide disagreed, saying the two-year-old rule was being repealed because it was unnecessary and never needed to be used. The aide said even without the rule, budget law provides for the need for a CBO score on legislation.

A Democratic aide, however, said repeal of the rule would remove an obstacle to voting on at least some legislation without a CBO score. Repeal of the rule also might result in less time available to review a CBO score, speeding up the timing for a vote.

The committee will meet at 11 a.m. Thursday to debate dozens of amendments offered by both Republicans and Democrats and vote on the budget resolution at the end of the day.

Kaine said he plans to offer amendments to lift sequestration, which limits discretionary and mandatory spending, and go back to a “true” CBO score.

He also said he wants to change the reconciliation instructions, which currently allow the deficit to be increased by $1.5 trillion over a decade, to require any tax cuts to be paid for through other tax increases.

David Lerman contributed to this report.

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