GOP: Budget deal a cinch

GOP: Budget deal a cinch
© Greg Nash

House and Senate Republicans are expected to blow past a soft Wednesday deadline to merge their competing budgets, but they’re confident they’ll strike a deal not long after.

Reaching a deal on the joint budget is the final hurdle for GOP lawmakers returning to Washington on Monday from a two-week recess before they can turn attention to spending bills that could offer major policy changes.

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Congressional leaders are expected to appoint members to a budget conference committee by mid-week, aides said.

Once those conferees are named, one House GOP leadership aide suggested a budget compromise could clear the House within days — perhaps as early as the end of the week.

“Since the budgets were relatively close on substance, this shouldn’t be a long, protracted negotiation," the leadership aide said.

If they can quickly approve the first joint GOP budget in a decade, Republicans could build on the momentum they achieved as they headed into the Easter recess.

Just before the break, both chambers passed their respective spending plans, and the House approved an historic Medicare reform bill by a lopsided bipartisan vote of 392-37.

“We still have big things we want to do,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in a recent interview with The Hill. “The budget — that’s our biggest visionary document. It lays out our path forward and what we need to do to get the country back on track.”

Bill Hoagland, a former staff director to the Senate Budget Committee who now works at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said it will be up to the two chairmen and majority staffs to strike a deal.

“They go dark for a while and they don’t come back into public setting until the differences have been worked out by the two chairs,” said Hoagland, who predicts it could take a week or so to resolve the issues.

The two GOP budget chairmen — Rep. Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWork requirements exactly what Ohio needs to roll back the ObamaCare disaster Price says working toward declaring opioid crisis national emergency Declare a true state of emergency MORE (Ga.) and Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziWe can't allow Congress to take earned benefits programs away from seniors Senate approves Trump's debt deal with Democrats Senate panel might not take up budget until October MORE (Wyo.) — got a head-start on negotiations Thursday, returning to Washington before the official end to Congress’ spring break and huddling to discuss their committees’ progress.

Budget staffers have been working overtime during recess to make sure the numbers in their separate budgets can be reconciled, but they wouldn’t spell out specific progress made over the break.

“Are you asking if everything is cut and dry — signed, sealed, delivered? No,” said one GOP aide. They’ve made great progress and there are still some smaller issues they need to address.”

The key to an agreement is making sure the top-line numbers are in the same ballpark. Decisions over policy changes would be left up to authorizing committees later on.

At this stage, negotiators will face obstacles over defense spending, Medicare and Medicaid, reserve funds, cuts to domestic programs and how to use the budget procedure, known as reconciliation.

Former Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), who led the House Budget Committee the last time a GOP-controlled Congress adopted a joint budget resolution in 2005, said some tough issues will ultimately be resolved by members rather than staff.

“In this instance, how you handle the defense account, how you handle the Medicare privatization and premium support … I mean there are a lot of things that are only going to be member-level decisions that are obviously going to determine votes, plus or minus, that are the real secret sauce to getting a package that you can cross both floors with,” Nussle said.

Before the recess, Republicanssaid they hoped to meet the April 15 legal deadline to adopt a joint budget resolution in both chambers. Reaching one by Wednesday isn’t practical.

In fact, since the timetable was established in 1974, Congress has frequently ignored the deadline.

Republicans are indicating, however, that they will want to approve a deal by the end of the month before the House leaves for another recess on May 1.

In a memo last week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the lower chamber will vote on two spending bills right before that break, suggesting the GOP leadership is confident they’ll have a budget in place by then.

Ultimately, Hoagland predicts Republicans will get a deal done.

“I think it will not be a slam dunk,” he said, “but at the end of the day, I do believe they will get a conference agreement largely because this whole exercise has been one of trying to at least present the image that Republicans can at least put together a budget that the Democratic-split Congress couldn’t do.”

At the joint House and Senate GOP retreat earlier this year, McCarthy told fellow Republicans their party needed to “show success” in the first 100 days of the new GOP-controlled Congress, said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who was in the audience and is close to leadership.

“To his credit, he always highlighted the budget as being the No. 1 issue,” Chaffetz, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, said in an interview. “If we can get that budget in place, then the rest of the year can play out as it should by doing the appropriations bills in regular order.”