House heads into August recess with uncertain path on budget

House heads into August recess with uncertain path on budget
© Keren Carrion
The House has no budget and no specific plan for preventing a government shutdown or debt ceiling breach as it heads into its August recess.
 
“September is going to be a very difficult month," said Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus on Friday morning. 
 
"I mean obviously all of this is coming into play right away, all the fiscal issues and deadlines are going to make it extremely difficult to get everything done in a piece-by-piece basis.”
 
When the Republican-controlled House returns in September, it will have four weeks to figure out a spending plan for 2018, and little more to address the debt ceiling.
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The chamber made middling progress on its agenda during the summer session; it passed a budget resolution out of committee and approved four of twelve spending bills. But both budget and spending are stalled due to Republican infighting.
 
On the budget resolution, which includes reconciliation instructions that will pave the way for Republican’s tax reform plan, disagreements persist on the depth of cuts to mandatory spending in areas such as welfare and education. 
 
“They’re still working on making sure they have the votes to get it passed, and that’s the goal right now,” said Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), a member of the House Budget Committee. 
 
The Freedom Caucus also wants further specifics on tax reform. The Thursday revelation that the Border Adjustment Tax, which conservatives revile, would be absent from the plan did little to assuage the group.
 
House moderates, such as Tuesday group Chairman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), argue that the entire process is misguided; final spending numbers will need to pass through the Senate, meaning they will require Democratic support. 
 
“We spend too much time, energy and capital here in getting people to vote for the first launch, for the takeoff, knowing damn well a lot of those same people won’t be there for the landing…They won’t be there for the real appropriations package, the real numbers. That’s the problem,” Dent said in a quote that Democratic Whip Steney Hoyer (Md.) gleefully circulated this week. 
 
“I’ve seen this movie before… And we all know how this is going to end,” Dent added, meaning that a bi-partisan, bicameral deal was the only solution.
 
Others see the drawn-out process as part of a strategic opening bid for eventual negotiations with Democrats.
 
“We are establishing our marker for what’s going to have to be a negotiation to get there,” said Rep. Bradley Byrn (R-Al.).
 
But there is little time for negotiations when the House reconvenes in September, as a shutdown looms when 2017 funding runs out on October 1. With the four security-related spending bills passed, the House must find a way to piece together the additional eight bills, and then reconcile them with the Senate in just a few weeks time. 
 
House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wi.) decided not to combine those bills with the four that passed this week because of concerns that an unpopular amendment might scare members away from voting for the all-or-nothing package. That remains a possibility with the other eight bills, regardless of whether they pass individually, which seems unlikely, or grouped together in “minibus” packages. 
 
But without the popular security-related bills attached, House members may not feel as much pressure to vote yes on tough spending bills.
 
Even if the House passes all its appropriations bills, it will have trouble working out differences with the Senate, which is working off a completely different set of spending figures.
 
Increasingly, Republicans are coming around to the view that they will have to stomach a short-term continuing resolution (CR), which maintains current funding levels, to avert a government shutdown when funding runs out at the end of September. 
 
While a CR can postpone a shutdown, a looming deadline on the debt ceiling will give Congress less flexibility. Absent legislative action, the U.S. Treasury will run out of ways to pay its bills around mid-October. Conservatives, who hoped to attach a debt-lift to some sort of spending reforms or policy riders, are coming around to the view that they may be unsuccessful.
 
“We’re almost anticipating a bigger bill with a whole bunch of things put together that would maybe bring a whole lot of Democrats on board and pass with less than a majority of the majority,” Meadows said, noting ruefully that his Caucus had pushed for dealing with the issue before the August recess.
 
House members are fond of blaming the Senate for Congress’s inability to pass major legislation, but many in the House are also beginning to long for a return to normal order, where budgets precede spending bills and parties cooperate somewhat more frequently. 
 
“The best way to make this place work is to always get back to regular order, passing a budget, passing appropriations bills,” said Renacci.
 
Even Meadows, whose group often creates stumbling blocks for easy passage of legislation, acknowledged this week that past tactics have failed to produce the desired results, and called for a new direction.
 
“It’s definitely time for a change of strategy and tactic by our leadership,” he said.
 
“We’ve got to figure out how to bring everybody together, conservatives, moderates and the in between.” 
 
He’d even be willing to work with Democrats, he added.