Democratic leaders weigh how to get budget blueprint through House

House leaders are still wrestling with how to assemble a budget blueprint for the next fiscal year that's acceptable to enough of their members to pass.

Through public statements, Democratic leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have expressed a desire to pass a budget resolution. If they fail to do so, it would be the first time since enactment of the 1974 Budget Act that a budget resolution hasn't originated in the House.

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But behind the scenes, leaders are scrambling to assess how many of their members would defect over a budget that adhered to the president's proposed freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, one that increased spending, or one that called for spending reductions.

Furthermore, leaders are still weighing the cost of having no budget at all, both politically but also in terms of their ability to write reconciliation rules for future legislative priorities. The budget reconciliation process allows for relevant programs to pass the Senate with a bare 51-vote majority, and became critical to the final passage of healthcare legislation after Democrats lost their 60-seat majority in the Senate.

So far, meetings with various groups on the left and right of the House Democratic caucus have not produced a winning formula.

Progressives have called for increasing the funding levels for certain programs, such as education programs. And on the other side, conservative Blue Dog Democrats are asking for a budget that cuts non-defense spending by 2 percent each of the next three years, and then freezes spending for the following two years.

Aides for members in both camps said leaders have not gone beyond the listening stage at this point.

And just like climate change and healthcare legislation, House leaders may need to broker a deal in committee before they can even think about whipping the votes needed for passage through the House.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a moderate freshman and member of the New Democrat Coalition who sits on the Budget Committee, said this past week that a spending freeze would not be good enough to win his vote in committee. And Connolly said he is not alone, adding that the near-unity that was there for the reconciliation healthcare "fixes" and last year's budget resolution is gone from the committee.

"Has the pendulum swung on the issue of deficits? I think the answer is yes, and it's going to be seen in the votes that are no longer there in the Budget Committee," Connolly said. "It's not just the Blue Dogs."

Hoyer on Friday said he expects that any budget the House adopts will "honor" the President's proposed spending freeze. He also hinted at a budget that honors that freeze, but not uniformly.

"Yes, there a number of us who believe that we ought to spend more in some areas and less in others," Hoyer said. "I think we can do that within the framework of a freeze, and that's the kind of budget I hope we can adopt and we're working toward that end."

The Majority Leader would not say if the votes would be there at the end of the day.

"We don't have a budget yet, so I can't tell you whether we have the votes yet," he said.