Memo: House Should Pass A Conservative Budget

To:                   Interested Parties
From:              Heritage Action for America
Date:               February 9, 2016
Subject:          House Should Pass A Conservative Budget

Today, President Obama released his final budget.  In an impressive display of political messaging, Republicans on Capitol Hill will largely ignore the budget because it will be a fundamentally unserious document that doubles down on the Obama administration’s failed progressive ideals.  The challenge for Republicans, though, will be to put forward a serious budget that doubles down on conservative priorities and unites the party.

Background

In 2015, the House passed a FY16 budget with the support of 228 Republicans. That budget incorporated the BCA levels and exploited the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) loophole to plus up defense spending levels. It also proposed breaking the firewall between defense and non-defense discretionary spending starting in FY17.

Seven months later, as part of then-Speaker John Boehner’s efforts to “clean out the barn,” Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) with the support of just 79 House Republicans.  The BBA increased the budget caps by $50 billion in FY16 and $30 billion in the upcoming FY17, split between defense and non-defense.

This month, the new leadership team will ask conservatives to support that new budget level.  Not only is it $30 billion above what conservatives agreed to in the last budget resolution, but the elevated spending level was unanimously supported by congressional Democrats.  The elevated BBA funding level has no business being in a conservative Republican budget blueprint.

A Conservative Budget

Last month, Heritage Action put forward four criteria necessary for conservatives to support a congressional budget:

Read the rest of the memo.

 

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Conservative Priorities for the Annual Congressional Budget

Background: In 2011, Congress and President Obama agreed to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for cuts to the federal spending totaling $917 billion over the next 10 years. The agreement dubbed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), has been a key tool to limit discretionary spending in the midst of exploding deficits and runaway federal spending. Unfortunately, ever since there has been a bipartisan push to increase the BCA caps to allow higher spending.

In late 2015, as part of then-Speaker John Boehner’s efforts to “clean out the barn,” Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) breaking the spending caps established under the BCA by $50 billion in fiscal year 2016 and $30 billion in fiscal year 2017.

The Purpose of a Budget: The annual budget process is Congress’ chance to set its own vision for the nation’s finances — a conservative vision reduces the size and scope of the federal government. It is an opportunity to set a new course and not continue to ratify the excessive spending of the past. Passing a budget for its own sake, regardless of spending levels, is neither conservative nor fair to the people who elected them to office. Conservatives should not simply rubber stamp a bad budget.

Conservative Priorities: At the end of last year, 167 Republican members voted against the BBA spending levels and 95 voted against the trillion dollar “omnibus” bill. Those same members are now being asked again to keep the higher spending levels in place for fiscal year 2017, even with a new Speaker. Conservatives should insist on the following priorities:

  • Keep top-line discretionary spending levels previously established under the BCA of 2011.
  • Balance within ten years without accounting gimmicks we have seen used in the past.
  • Eliminate Obamacare revenues from being counted towards balancing the budget, as the law should and must fully be repealed under a Republican President in 2017.
  • Explicitly reaffirm support for premium support in Medicare and other policy reforms.

Claim and Response

Claim: Returning to “regular order” appropriations bills should be our focus. This cannot occur without a budget.

Response: This is not true. Congress can and has considered appropriations bills in the past without an agreement between the House and Senate. Each chamber could “deem” its own budget.

Claim: Passing a budget at higher spending levels will allow conservatives to devote a larger focus to passing significant policy reforms.

Response: While many policy proposals would likely be included in any budget, Congress does not need a bad (or any) budget agreement to consider stand-alone policy reforms such as tax reform or welfare reform.

Claim: The budget does not rely on the revenues from Obamacare. It merely assumes the same amount of revenue under current laws and that any changes to tax policy will be “revenue neutral.”

Response: While Obamacare may be the law of the land, Republicans in Congress and those running for the White House have repeatedly promised to repeal it in 2017. With this in mind, Republican budgets in the past have correctly scrapped Obamacare spending, but mistakenly kept Obamacare’s $1 trillion dollars of revenue in order to balance the budget. Republicans get away with this gimmick by claiming future changes to our tax policy will be “revenue neutral” without explaining how that will happen. In other words, they are arguing if Congress votes to cut Obamacare taxes in repeal then they would have to raise revenue somewhere else. In this year’s budget, conservatives must insist on a balanced budget that truly balances, without using Obamacare gimmicks.

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GOP Senate Rubber Stamping Obama’s Judicial Nominations

We’ll do audacious executive action over the course of the rest of the year, I’m confident of that,” promised Barack Obama’s chief of staff.  Given the president’s unlawful unilateral actions, there is no reason to doubt that promise. Despite those promises and growing opposition from within their own conference, Senate Republican leaders continue to confirm federal judges nominated by President Obama.

On Wednesday, senators will be asked to vote in favor of John Michael Vazquez of New Jersey.

Vazquez was recommended for nomination by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) 4%.  Few would be surprised to learn he donated thousands of dollars to both Menendez and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) 12%, but even fewer would contend Mr.Vazquez would lift a finger to rein in this president’s executive overreach.

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Congressional Boarding Pass

Setting the 2017 Policy Agenda

No more favors for the few. Opportunity for all—that is our motto.
— Speaker Paul D. Ryan

Americans are hungry for leaders who will address concerns about the relationship between mobility, economic dynamism, concentrated power, and collusion between special interests and government.

The Heritage Foundation’s American Perception Initiative (API) “demonstrates the centrality of the two core themes of this vision—’opportunity’ without the corrupting influence of ‘favoritism’.” That is the central challenge facing our nation: creating opportunity for all and favoritism to none.

BUDGET

While nonbinding and frequently ignored, the budget is an opportunity to put forward a roadmap to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. Heritage market research found conservatives have “high credibility” on issues related to government spending and reform.

Balance. A 2013 NRCC poll found a balanced budget message proved to be a winning argument, even in purple districts. The budget should balance at lower spending levels, without gimmicks, and without relying on Obamacare’s tax revenues, which will be repealed come 2017.

Recommit to Premium Support. The House and Senate budgets should explicitly reaffirm the GOP’s commitment to advancing premium support in Medicare.

OBAMA AGENDA

Congress must find new leverage points to reassert its constitutional authority and rein in executive overreach — guns, amnesty, environment, labor, etc — during the final year of the Obama administration.

Legislative Riders. Appropriations riders can be part of the strategy, but final action is unlikely before September. In the interim, riders should be attached to bipartisan priorities that are likely to move through the process.

Nominees. Given the Obama administration’s disregard for Congress’s role in our constitutional system of government, the Senate should refuse to confirm the president’s nominees unless those nominees are directly related to our national security.

WELFARE REFORM

In 1996, Congress reformed one welfare program out of roughly 80 means-tested programs. Heritage market research found the conservative approach to welfare reform “has the ability to significantly increase support for the conservative vision for America.”

Strong Work Requirement. The most notable component of the 1996 welfare reform was a work requirement. Any welfare reform proposal should include strong work requirements. Last year in Maine, work requirements for childless, able-bodied adults without dependents caused an 80-percent reduction in that group’s food stamp use.

Restore Federalism. The 1996 reform also froze nominal spending on TANF — a cap that remains in place today. Congress should aim to restore federalism in welfare policy by reducing the long-term federal footprint through real spending reductions and a nominal cap, allowing states to make decisions about how much revenue should be devoted to their welfare programs.

HEALTHCARE REFORM

According to Heritage’s market research, a fresh start for health care reform “is overall one of the strongest issues on the conservative agenda” and offers “a significant ability to further increase identification with the conservative vision for America.”

Pre-Obamacare Baselines. America’s health care system prior to Obamacare was deeply flawed. Any conservative reform proposal should envision a smaller federal role than that which existed before Obamacare, with the goal of reducing overall healthcare costs rather than matching Obamacare’s aspiration for universal coverage. At a bare minimum that means reverting back to the pre-Obamacare spending and tax baselines. Simply redirecting and rebranding bloated Obamacare spending towards a less bad system is unacceptable.

TAX REFORM

The current tax system is stifling opportunity for all Americans, not just corporations. Heritage market research finds that tax reform “is the most relevant issue of the conservative agenda.” The conservative approach — fair and simple, reward work and savings, and eliminate loopholes for special interests — “is highly credible and recognized as a strong solution.”

Ditch Neutrality. The beltway orthodoxy — tax reform should be revenue neutral, distributionally neutral, and conform with other liberal constructs — crippled Mitt Romney’s ability to campaign on reform and stifled the most recent congressional effort to draft pro-growth reforms. With revenues as a percentage of GDP approaching Clinton-era levels, congressional reform efforts should reflect this emerging consensus on the right.

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MEMO: Fight Obama’s Overreach by Refusing to Confirm Nominees

To:
From:
Date:
Subject:
Interested Parties
Heritage Action
January 15, 2016
Fight Obama’s Overreach by Refusing to Confirm Nominees

President Obama began his final year in office by taking aim at the Second Amendment and unilaterally shredding immigration caps set by Congress without congressional approval. On Wednesday, his chief of staff Denis McDonough made clear the year would continue in a similar fashion, announcing that “We’ll do audacious executive action over the course of the rest of the year, I’m confident of that.”

Repeated executive power grabs threaten to undo the system of checks and balances written into our Constitution. The president’s actions have not only marginalized the legislature, they have also begun eroding the independence of our nation’s judicial system by stacking the courts with liberal judges who interpret the Constitution to serve this president’s radical progressive agenda.

Our system of government requires each branch to jealously guard its prerogatives, and President Obama routinely tramples over the legislature’s prerogatives. Senators should not stand by idly for the next 12 months. They must act to reassert their constitutional prerogatives.

Obama’s Undeniable Impact on Federal Courts

While the pace of judicial confirmations has slowed since 2015, much of the damage has already been done. At this point in his presidency, President Obama has had more judicial nominees confirmed than President Bush. He has successfully appointed 55 appeals court judges and 260 district court judges, approximately 30% and 40% of the total seats, respectively. Granting any more lifetime appointments to federal judges whose views align with this president’s radical ideological agenda is indefensible.

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