White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Friday tore into Republican leaders for their decision to not grant a hearing to President Obama's budget.
"Maybe they're taking the Donald Trump approach to debates about the budget — they're just not going to show up," Earnest quipped, referring to the presidential frontrunner's decision to skip last week’s Fox News debate.
Leaders of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said they would not hold hearings with Shaun Donovan, the White House's budget director, to review the president's fiscal 2017 budget.
"I guess the future is pretty dim if you have Republicans in Congress unwilling to even talk about the budget with the White House," Earnest said Friday.
It was a surprising slap at the administration, and a move that is unprecedented in more than two decades of congressional budget-writing.
Earnest said it shows that Republicans are "scared about the debate," and that the party was not confident in its arguments against the administration’s budget proposals.
The White House will unveil its latest budget blueprint on Tuesday. With Republicans controlling Congress, that document serves more as a political messaging platform than a bargaining tool.
Still, the annual release of the administration’s budget proposal ignites fights across Capitol Hill about the spending priorities he outlines.
Republicans in Congress are expected to release their own budget proposal – which is also a non-binding document – in the next several weeks.
GOP leaders say they hope to approve the budget resolution by late February. That will require both chambers of Congress to unite around a single proposal, which is particularly challenging for a fractured House Republican caucus.
If they do approve a joint budget, Republicans will again be able to use the budget tool called “reconciliation,” in which they can pass legislation without a filibuster threat. Last year, that tool was used to send a repeal of ObamaCare to the president’s desk for the first time.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last month that he would make a major effort to pass an election-year budget despite serious reservations from his vulnerable colleagues.
“We’re certainly committed to trying to pass a budget this year, no question about it,” he said at a joint press conference with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in Baltimore, where congressional Republicans are holding their annual retreat.
In the House, newly elected Ryan faces a major challenge uniting his party, particularly fiscal hawks like members of the House Freedom Caucus.
That small but powerful group wants Ryan to abandon the recent budget deal struck between the Obama administration and former Speaker John Boehner in a favor of even deeper spending cuts.
The GOP’s goal of presenting a blueprint that balances the budget within 10 years is also trickier this year because of higher-than-expected projections from the Congressional Budget Offices that showed the size of the deficit outpacing the economy for the first time in six years.
Earnest cited the Republican leadership’s pledge to “get Congress moving” again when they took control of Congress in the fall 2014 elections.
“It certainly does raise some questions about how serious Republicans actually are about governing the country,” Earnest said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the move "outrageous," and said it called into doubt the Republicans' "seriousness about fulfilling their promise to complete a budget process."
"Never before in modern Congressional history have we seen the Majority declare that it would refuse to extend to the President’s top budget representative the courtesy of a hearing," Hoyer wrote in a statement.