Fresh Freedom Caucus demands stall GOP budget

Republican plans to advance a budget bill have again stalled in the face of fresh demands from the House Freedom Caucus.
The conservative lawmakers are now saying they will not back a budget until they know exactly what the House GOP’s plan is on tax reform. 
“If a budget is put forward today at $200 billion on mandatory spending, and without decisions on tax reform, there would not be enough votes to pass it in the House because of the conservative concerns,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Wednesday.
{mosads}Meadows made the remarks at a press conference demanding that the House follow the Senate’s lead in delaying its August recess. 
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) echoed Meadows. 
“For us to say we’d like to see the tax bill first, and we’d like to have real savings over time so we’re not further bankrupting the country, how is that a radical position?” he said.
Freedom Caucus demands that mandatory spending cuts be raised from $150 billion to $200 billion have already been delaying House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black’s (R-Tenn.) work on a budget resolution.
The demands to see tax reform details and for even more mandatory spending cuts are now a further complication.
The House GOP’s plan for tax reform has always been linked to the budget process.
Republicans are using a budget-related procedure called reconciliation to pass tax reform so that they can prevent Democrats from blocking the bill in the Senate with a filibuster. 
The GOP’s hope has been to do tax reform in the fall, but the Trump administration and congressional leaders remain far from galvanizing details on a reform plan. Work has also been delayed by the Senate’s struggle to complete healthcare legislation, which includes a number of possible changes to the tax code.
On the spending cuts, Freedom Caucus members are signaling they want more than the $200 billion in reductions.
“I feel pretty comfortable saying I think we can still negotiate,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). “Maybe that $200 billion is a floor, and if you know where to go and where to push what buttons, you might be able to get more.”
Deeper cuts, however, could risk losing support from centrists, who have raised concern over slashing welfare and anti-poverty programs.
Jordan, who has been leading the Freedom Caucus negotiations with the Budget Committee, scoffed at the idea that conservatives were seeking new demands.
“It was never $200 [billion], that’s so ridiculous,” he said. “I’ve always been consistent, I’ve always said $400 billion.”
But earlier in the week, the Freedom Caucus said that it would be willing to support a $250 billion package of cuts in exchange for supporting a hike to the nation’s borrowing limit — another must-pass piece of legislation that needs to be taken care of this fall.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), another Freedom Caucus member, said that the rare Republican control of both chambers of Congress and the White House made the opportunity for deeper cuts too good to pass up.
“You’re doing it regardless, so why not do it right? Why not do it in a transparent manner? So you’re moving the goal posts, yeah,” he said. It was preferable, he added, to get the budget on the right path.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), an Appropriations subcommittee chairman who also serves on the Budget Committee, said he believed the GOP budget would be unveiled and marked up next week.
“That’s my understanding,” Diaz-Balart told reporters Wednesday in the Speaker’s lobby. 
Black, he said, “has been just relentless in talking to everybody and getting everybody’s input. And I think I can’t speak for her, but I think she’s at a point where it’s as good as it’s going to get, and we’ve got to move forward.”
Other GOP sources on the Budget Committee, however, saw that as more of an aspirational goal. The past three times the budget resolution was expected, the markup was postponed. 
Black herself seemed to tamp down expectations of imminent action.
“We are still working with our members,” Black told The Hill following the most recent GOP listening session on the budget, which failed to find a new consensus.
“Look, we’ve got a very important budget this time, and we’ve got a lot of moving parts in this budget. We’ve got tax reform and deficit reduction, and all these things are very important. And we’ve got to get it right.”
Black could conceivably choose to call the Freedom Caucus’s bluff and send the bill through the committee without meeting the new demands.
But Jordan warned that such a strategy would be risky.
“I don’t think I’d be voting for that next week. But I’ve made that very clear, I think we need to have a little more understanding on what’s happening on the tax bill and I think we need to achieve significantly more savings,” he said.
— Scott Wong contributed to this report
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