House panel approves belated 2019 budget

House panel approves belated 2019 budget
© Greg Nash

A House panel on Thursday approved a budget resolution for the 2019 fiscal year, advancing the measure two months after its legal deadline and well into the appropriations process it is meant to precede.

The resolution passed the House Budget Committee along a strict, party-line vote of 21-13.

“The largest looming shadow of doubt on America’s future is, quite simply, the extent of the nation’s debt,” Committee Chairman Steve WomackStephen (Steve) Allen WomackBipartisan House group heads to Camp David retreat Pelosi to make history with second Speakership GOP rep says Dems want to hand Trump a government shutdown MORE (R-Ark.) said in his opening remarks of the two-day markup. The national deficit, he noted, was projected to reach nearly $1 trillion next year.

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The resolution approved Thursday lays out a path to balance the budget over a decade and calls for $8.1 trillion in deficit reduction measures to reach that goal.

The figure includes $1.1 billion in reductions from discretionary spending –– largely in the non-defense category –– and $5.4 trillion in mandatory spending. 

The proposed mandatory reduction includes $1.5 trillion from Medicaid, $537 billion from Medicare and $2.6 trillion in reductions to other programs such as welfare, nutritional assistance and other anti-poverty programs.

Democrats have cried foul over the measure, accusing Republicans of slashing entitlements and key programs just months after blowing up the deficit with their signature tax plan, which the Congressional Budget Office projected will add $1.9 trillion to deficits over the decade.

“This budget places the entire burden of deficit reduction on the middle-class and struggling families.  It does not call for even 1 penny of new revenue from closing tax loopholes for the wealthy or corporations,” said Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthTrump: Top Dems aren't allowing negotiators to make border security deal Dem rep: 'If Mick Mulvaney were president, we could’ve solved' border talks at Camp David retreat Bipartisan House group heads to Camp David retreat MORE (D-Ky.), the committee’s ranking member.

Budget resolutions do not have force of law, so the budget’s assumptions of policies such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and introduction of stricter work requirements for certain benefits would not go into effect even it passed in both chambers.

Instead, the resolution is meant to provide top line spending numbers for appropriators and a blueprint for the nation’s fiscal plan. The spending issue was mooted earlier this year with the advent of a bipartisan budget deal that increased the annual spending caps for defense and non-defense discretionary spending. The House has already approved its first set of appropriations bills, and the appropriations committee and subcommittees are well on their way to completing their work for the year.

But resolutions can issue reconciliation instructions that demand congressional committees make cuts in mandatory spending. The budget resolution called for $302 billion in such cuts, among the highest such request in two decades.

During the hearing Thursday, Republican Rep. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockHouse passes bill expressing support for NATO Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds Rep. Mike Johnson wins race for RSC chairman MORE (Calif.) vented frustration that the resolution did not seek higher cuts through reconciliation. 

“Only $300 billion is in the actual reconciliation bill. So the remaining 95 percent of that $5.4 trillion is going to require action by future congresses because we just can’t bear to make those decisions this year,” he said. “The rest is happy thoughts and pixie dust.”

McClintock offered a last-minute amendment to put the remaining recommendations into the reconciliation instructions, but it failed.

The resolution also relied on savings from policies unlikely to pass in the highly divided Congress, plus optimistic growth assumptions out of line with most economic projections to make the numbers add up.

The resolution’s fate beyond the committee room remains unclear.

“I'm not sure why they're going to try to do a budget. We have the budget numbers. But I predict the budget will not come to the floor,” House Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Dems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Winners and losers in the border security deal MORE (D-Md.) said earlier in the week.

The Senate Budget Committee, meanwhile, may not even release a resolution this year, though any such document is likely to be more moderate in scope than the House version. 

– Mike Lillis contributed