House GOP behind on budget bill
Tricky to balance cuts, defense funds
House Republicans say they’re already behind on this year’s budget and spending bills, raising the chances of a major year-end crush and the kind of massive omnibus bill that’s left the GOP steaming in recent congresses.
Budget-writers in the House did say Wednesday there’s a tentative framework to start putting together a formal 2018 budget blueprint — two months behind schedule. But they are struggling to find enough cuts to satisfy the party’s deficit hawks, and enough of a boost in military funding to accommodate its defense hawks.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said there’s always a budget crunch in a new president’s first year and that Republicans are still working through the process.
“We haven’t decided exactly how we’re going to go about our appropriations process in this first year, but … we’re going to move together on consensus,” Mr. Ryan told reporters Wednesday.
A budget is supposed to be adopted by April 15, and the Appropriations Committees are then supposed to begin writing the dozen annual spending bills that keep the government running. Those bills are supposed to be in place by Sept. 30.
Republicans regularly criticized Democrats for missing the deadlines — but the GOP-led Congress hasn’t done any better.
Lawmakers on the Budget Committee said they’re crafting a 2018 budget with tentative plans to set discretionary domestic spending at $511 billion and military spending at $621 billion.
President Trump had proposed $603 billion for defense and $462 billion for discretionary domestic purposes.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Wednesday the administration got to the $603 billion figure because that’s where spending would be absent mandatory cuts, known as sequesters, that Congress passed several years ago.
“We think it’s sufficient,” Mr. Mulvaney told members of the House Appropriations Committee. “But if this body sees fit to do more than that, certainly you’ll get no objections from this administration.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate committee, have floated a $640 billion figure.
The House Budget Committee also had planned to direct lawmakers to find $150 billion in cuts over 10 years to mandatory spending in programs like food stamps.
“We want to get about this process,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican. “We’re the ones that ought to kick it off.”
Still, Mr. Cole said Republicans face two likely options for the spending bills: Either a yearlong “continuing resolution” that maintains 2017-level funding through 2018, or else a massive omnibus bill delivered at the end of the year that would probably require Democratic votes to pass, giving the minority party far more leverage in negotiations.
Conservatives who want deeper domestic spending cuts are unlikely to favor either option.
The Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus in the House, has called for leaders to write a single massive bill but have it ready before August, giving lawmakers a chance to have a full debate before the Sept. 30 deadline.
“The game of financial and political brinksmanship has yielded few, if any, victories for conservatives,” RSC Chairman Mark Walker, North Carolina Republican, said earlier this month. “We cannot keep punting this problem and should be proactive rather than reactive.”