House GOP inches forward on budget

Greg Nash

House GOP leaders are inching forward with what they hope is their final push to pass a Republican budget blueprint this year.

Members of the House Budget Committee laid out their latest strategy during a rare Monday night meeting of the GOP conference, though several conservatives say they are still unconvinced, with another crucial meeting coming Tuesday morning.

“The concern on behalf of most people is: Are we going to have meaningful cuts in mandatory [spending] in some point down the road to offset the higher spending in fiscal year 2017?,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

“The jury is still out,” Meadows said Monday evening.

In the closed-door conference meeting, Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said he hopes to pass a bill through the committee this week, bring it to the House floor next week and then pass a separate package of mandatory spending reforms in April, according to multiple members.

The plan would keep last fall’s spending levels, which were struck by President Obama and former Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerDems brace for immigration battle 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Trump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote MORE (R-Ohio), while guaranteeing to make up for the $30 billion in new spending as part of that deal.

The savings would be achieved through a deficit-trimming package, known internally as “the sidecar,” which members say would amount to about $32 billion over two years and $166 billion over 10 years.

Those spending cuts would be even deeper than those when House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanDems brace for immigration battle RNC chairman: Ryan one of 'brightest stars' in Republican Party Gingrich: 'Of course' we can afford to have president with split personality MORE (R-Wis.) led the budget committee, he told members during the meeting as he made the case for the latest proposal.

“I feel we made great progress,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters as he left the meeting. “I think of lot of members are looking pretty positive about this.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyGOP lawmakers ask IRS to explain M wasted on unusable email system Rep. Brady plans to move tax reform legislation in 2017 US confirms China has ended tax breaks for domestic airplanes MORE (R-Texas) offered similar optimism, describing "good, constructive conversations" with members.

"Everyone understands the importance of having a budget. So there's a lot of good discussion," he said. 

The bulk of the savings would come from two House committees. A handful of bills from the Ways and Means Committee target duplicative payments in Medicaid and through the child tax credit benefit. That committee will begin a markup on Wednesday.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has also proposed ways to cut $30 billion, such as ensuring lottery winners cannot qualify for Medicaid.

It’s a plan that would more than offset the $30 billion in extra spending that was added during last fall’s deal Obama-BoehnerJohn BoehnerDems brace for immigration battle 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Trump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote MORE deal — something that GOP leaders hope will win over the fiscal hawks needed for the bill’s final passage.

They’ve also worked to win over more of the party’s defense hawks, who had expressed concerns the previous spending levels weren’t enough for the military.

The latest GOP plan would make about $23 billion more available to the Pentagon under a separate pot of funding, according to Rep. Bill FloresBill FloresWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Week ahead in tech: Crunch time for internet handoff opponents MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the Republican Study Committee.  

In the meeting, GOP leaders again tried to make the case for a passing a budget resolution.

“We have to have a process, by passing a budget, that will allow us to have all the budget tools that are available to us,” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) told reporters, which he said was also argued in the meeting.

The budget committee had hoped to hold a markup of its bill this week, as early as Wednesday, but there had been concern that several of the House Freedom Caucus members who sit on the budget committee may vote against it.

Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of that group, declined to comment on Monday evening. The Freedom Caucus was scheduled to hold its own meeting later Monday evening.

“On those numbers right now, the defense hawks seem to be pleased by the direction the discussions are going,” Meadows said. “All the discussion right now is voting for a higher number, and whether that makes fiscal sense.”