New budget plan doesn’t address the underlying disagreement

House leaders, trying to break the impasse stalling the chamber’s budget and appropriations process, are putting forward a new plan designed to get conservative support for a budget that sets FY17 discretionary spending at $1.070 trillion, the cap created by last fall’s budget deal.

The plan would combine the traditional congressional budget resolution with formal legislative bill text that would achieve $30 billion in savings in the first two years and $170 billion over ten.  It would not be a strictly congressional resolution as budgets are, but rather a bill that could theoretically be signed into law.  A “leadership source” explained the plan to Politico, saying:

“[T]he budget then couldn’t take effect without the mandatory savings, which target Medicaid and Obamacare, also being enacted. Such a move would allow conservatives to claim they voted for a budget with less spending than prescribed by the Obama-Boehner deal. But members of the conference’s right flank were cool to the proposal. They noted it was unlikely the package would be passed by the Senate or signed into law by Obama.”

That fact that this new proposal is intended to gain the support of conservatives for the $1.070 trillion budget number without providing a way of actually achieving the goals they have laid out, invites the question: Why is this plan being put forward? If this is simply an exercise to get conservatives on record supporting a budget (any budget, even one with ancillary provisions) at 1070 in order to weaken their resolve to oppose efforts later this month to move appropriations bills written to the 1070 level, then it is a poor exercise and a waste of time.

House Republicans have serious policy differences on how to move forward with this year’s budget and appropriations process. Those differences can’t be papered over or avoided with proposals that don’t address the fundamental disagreements in question.

This proposed plan does nothing to address that fundamental disagreement.

What’s more, all budget resolutions contain “illustrative policy options” to achieve its underlying assumptions. Adding specific bill text to achieve some of those savings (though in this instance, representing less than 2.5% of the proposed savings contained in the budget), and having members vote on those specific savings, can rightfully be seen as a positive step; however, contrary to some talking points, sidecar legislation spelling out specific cuts is not revolutionary. Back in 2012, the House passed follow-up legislation to its budget laying out $310 billion in specific deficit reductions. That legislation was not coupled with a meaningful strategy to enact those cuts, and thus was not taken up in the Senate and died a quiet death. This plan appears likely to meet the same fate.

To be clear, the cuts that are reportedly included in the bill are generally worthwhile and while this bill certainly has merits in isolation, it does not in any way change or address the fundamental issue at hand. Conservatives in the House have made their demands clear: they will not vote for $1.070 trillion in discretionary spending, including appropriations written to that level, unless $30 billion in cuts are enacted.

Unless there is a strategy and path forward to getting this new plan through the Senate and signed into law by the President, conservatives in the House should continue to oppose the “1070” budget level and make clear that this plan doesn’t bind them to supporting appropriations going forward. In fact,they should continue to oppose those appropriations bills unless and until the bill’s cuts get signed into law.

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House NDAA Budget Gimmick

Next week the House will take up the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), setting forth funding authorization levels and laws that guide our Department of Defense for the upcoming fiscal year. Late last month, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) passed the bill out of committee that authorizes base defense spending at $551 billion and includes $59 for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which qualifies as emergency spending and therefore is not subject to the recently revised budget caps.

While the title of this additional funding would suggest that it is solely for “overseas operations,” the truth is that this emergency spending stream has often been used for non-emergency base defense priorities that should be funded in the regular defense budget. Just last year Heritage Action’s CEO Mike Needham and Steve Bucci, former Heritage Foundation Director of the Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy Studieswrote about the use of OCO as an emergency funding gimmick:

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Budget Resolution Claims and Responses

The House is currently discussing a potential path forward on an FY17 budget resolution.  As Heritage Action explained last month, there are four criteria necessary for conservatives to support a congressional budget resolution:

  1. Balance within the budget window without accounting gimmicks;
  2. Remove Obamacare tax revenue, as the law should repealed in 2017, and as last year’s reconciliation exercise proved the GOP remains committed to repealing the entire law, including all of its tax increases;
  3. Explicitly reaffirm the GOP’s commitment to bold entitlement reform, especially Medicare premium support; and
  4. Abide by the topline FY17 budget levels contained in last year’s Republican budget.

As things stand right now, there is an effort to convince conservatives to vote for an FY17 budget that calls for $1.070 trillion in discretionary spending, which is $30 billion above the levels set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The “unenforceable nature of budget resolution promises” should cause those conservatives to reject the type of deals currently being discussed.

Below are some commonly made claims and straightforward conservative responses:

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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.


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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Rally on Capitol Mall

Running Away From the Ryan Budget

What practical impact will the House-passed Ryan Budget have on policy making in an election year?

Unfortunately, since 2010, there has been a notable unwillingness among House Republicans — particularly their leadership — to fight for the policies embodied in Ryan’s budgets

House Republicans and Chairman Ryan deserve credit for passing a budget, but Americans are growing tired of Washington’s budget-this-way, govern-that-way doublespeak. Lawmakers should not make the mistake, as Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) recently did, of suggesting a budget resolution alone is “a strong signal to our base that if we can deliver the election victories that we need, we’re prepared to make some really tough decisions.” 

We will only believe that promise when we see some evidence to support it. 

Read the whole Politico Magazine piece.

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