Conservative caucus withholding support from Republican budget

Conservative caucus withholding support from Republican budget
© Greg Nash

Members of the House Freedom Caucus are withholding support for the House GOP budget as lawmakers prepare for a committee vote on Wednesday.

Conservatives in the Freedom Caucus would not have the votes to block approval of the budget by the House Budget Committee, but their opposition could sink the measure on final passage by the full House.

The Freedom Caucus members are pressing for double the budget’s $200 billion in proposed cuts to mandatory spending, and they want details on a coming tax reform package.

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The budget itself has little importance in setting actual spending limits for the government. But it is highly important in setting up the rules for tax reform. Republicans are including tax reform as part of reconciliation instructions in their budget to set up a fast-track process for tax reform preventing Senate Democrats from filibustering.

“The only reason you need a budget is for reconciliation. So if that’s the only reason we’re doing it, we’d like to know what the savings will be like and what tax reform is going to look like,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus leader, told The Hill.

The Freedom Caucus, he added, felt burned by the last budget resolution, which laid out reconciliation instructions for repealing ObamaCare. The caucus, he said, gave its support to a general set of instructions, but disapproved of the way the process has moved forward since then. 

“We’ve been down this road before. It’s like the expression: ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,’ ” he said.

In terms of tax reform, the caucus wants to ensure that it will not be revenue neutral — in other words, that it will ultimately be a tax cut — and that it will not include a border-adjustment tax backed by Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP rep: Virginia defeat 'a referendum' on Trump administration After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Pence: Praying 'takes nothing away' from trying to figure out causes behind mass shooting MORE (R-Wis.).

The Freedom Caucus has not taken a formal position on the budget, but that could come later this week.

The budget would propose spending billions more on both defense and nondefense discretionary spending than President Trump proposed in his own budget. It includes $621.5 billion in defense spending and $511 billion in nondefense discretionary spending. Trump’s budget included  $603 billion for defense and $462 billion for nondefense spending.

It also cuts roughly $200 billion in mandatory spending from programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. 

Republicans cannot afford to lose more than 22 GOP votes on the House floor, assuming every Democrat votes against the bill.

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of both the Budget panel and the Freedom Caucus, told The Hill he’s undecided on the GOP budget and predicted the vote will be close.

He said he needed to see the tax plan before he can get to yes.

Republican leaders also face pressure from more centrist members in the Tuesday Group who are not keen on backing a budget with steep cuts.

On June 30, 20 Tuesday Group members signed a letter objecting to the use of a budget resolution to carry out large mandatory spending cuts and demanding a bipartisan approach. 

“Absent such a bipartisan, bicameral agreement, we are reticent to support any budget resolution on the House floor,” the letter said. 

Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackBudget vote raises red flag for GOP on tax reform House adopts Senate budget, takes step toward tax reform This week: Trump, GOP lawmakers look to get on the same page MORE (R-Tenn.) and Ryan are working to win full passage of a House budget.

But if they fail, Republicans could still pass a “shell” budget resolution that would preserve the fast-track process’s use for tax reform.

Meanwhile, the Republican Study Committee (RSC), which includes a majority of House GOP members, is preparing to unveil its own budget proposal on Thursday. 

Its proposal would recommend eliminating a budget gimmick that allows billions in defense spending outside of budget caps, and including that spending in the defense budget.

The total defense figure would be equivalent to Trump’s proposed $603 billion plus the $65 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which currently does not count toward the cap. It would also dramatically reduce nondefense discretionary spending to $394 billion. 

The budget is an attempt to push for further spending reforms down the line, said RSC Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.), and at least “show how it’s possible.”

“It would balance in President Trump’s second term,” he added.

Moving forward, the Republican leadership has begun to gauge whether it has the votes in its caucus for combining all 12 of the 2018 appropriations bills — the last of which are slated to pass through the House Appropriations Committee this week — into one omnibus spending bill.

It’s unclear whether that plan is feasible before the August recess.

Congress must approve legislation to fund the government before the end of September to prevent a shutdown.

Scott Wong contributed.