Will Senate GOP try to pass a budget this year?

Will Senate GOP try to pass a budget this year?
© Stefani Reynolds

Senate Republicans are divided over whether to pass an annual budget, with some lawmakers arguing it’s a waste of time and could become a political liability if vulnerable members of their conference are forced to cast tough votes. 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziWill Senate GOP try to pass a budget this year? Presumptive benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans are a major win If single payer were really a bargain, supporters like Rep. John Yarmuth would be upfront about its cost MORE (R-Wyo.) says he plans to move ahead with a budget resolution, but he has yet to receive confirmation from the GOP leadership that it will actually get to the floor. 

“It obviously would be challenging and of course I think the broader question is, is there any budget the Senate could pass that would reconcile with the House?” said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePolls: Hiking estate tax less popular than taxing mega wealth, income Will Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall MORE (S.D.). “The idea that we would ever get a budget resolution that we could conference with the House I think would be a long bet.” 

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Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) at a GOP conference meeting last week called on his colleagues to scrap the 14-week budget process, arguing it’s a waste of time.

He wants to skip the time-consuming process of passing a budget so that appropriators can get a head start on negotiating spending bills so there’s less chance of a legislative pileup at year’s end. He argues the budget process is broken and needs to be reformed, anyway. 

“It doesn’t mean anything. All they’re doing is coming up with a top-line [spending] number, which if we can’t pass in the House, you’re going to pass it to the leadership and the White House to determine,” Perdue said. “There are other people who are proponents of that.”

Perdue argued “there’s no way” that Republicans would be able to pass a budget that balances over 10 years, which most GOP senators view as a political requirement even though there is no law mandating such fiscal discipline. 

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesMontana governor visiting Iowa amid talk of possible 2020 bid Will Senate GOP try to pass a budget this year? Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal MORE (R-Mont.), who has worked with Perdue on budget reform, said “the process is broken and the outcomes prove that based on that fact that we’re staring at soon-to-be $22 trillion in debt.” 

A number of Senate Republicans worry that putting together a budget that balances — at least on paper — over the next decade would force them to take a number of politically dangerous votes to get it passed. 

Under Senate budget rules, a budget must be subject to an unlimited number of amendments during a vote-a-rama before it can receive a vote on final passage. Many of those amendments are message bills, aimed at getting senators on the other side of the aisle to take tough votes that could be used as fodder for campaign ads.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Green New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE (R-Ky.) and his leadership team regularly criticized Democrats for not passing budgets when they controlled the upper chamber.

McConnell vowed in 2014 that would change if Republicans were in charge. 

“The law requires us to pass a budget. And it’s stunning, as Sen. [John] Cornyn [(R-Texas)] pointed out, that we’re now a thousand days since we last passed a budget. I don’t think the law says, pass a budget unless it’s hard. So I think there’s no question that we would — we would take up our responsibility,” McConnell told reporters in January  2012. 

Enzi said he plans to move ahead with a budget despite his colleagues’ skepticism.

“I’m working steadily on a budget. That’s what a budget chairman is supposed to do,” said Enzi, who expressed optimism about passing one on the Senate floor. 

He’s even met with his House counterpart, 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.), who is planning on passing a budget blueprint. 

The budget resolution must be passed and reconciled between both chambers to set the top-line discretionary spending number. Such a budget measure is not subject to presidential approval. 

If the House and Senate can’t agree, top congressional leaders from both chambers will have to strike a separate deal on spending caps.  

Senate Republicans passed two budget resolutions in 2017 — one for fiscal 2017 and one for fiscal 2018 — to set up special rules enabling them to pass health care and tax reform with simple majority votes.  

The Senate didn’t pass a budget in 2018, as the top-line spending numbers were set by a deal President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE struck with congressional leaders in February of that year.  

Enzi conceded that he doesn’t have a commitment from McConnell to debate and vote on the budget, but added hopefully, “He hasn’t stopped me.” 

Regardless, Enzi said he’s more focused on getting budget reform enacted, a reflection of the growing influence of more junior Republicans such as Perdue, Daines and Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees GOP senator calls Omar's apology 'entirely appropriate' New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks MORE (Okla.), who are pressing for a procedural overhaul. 

“My biggest concern is getting some budget reform passed, otherwise the budget only lasts about 40 days until it gets waived and that doesn’t do much good,” Enzi said. 

Congressional leaders set up a joint select committee on budget and appropriations reform in 2018 as part of a two-year spending deal, but it failed to enact any reforms before its mandate expired at the end of last year. Enzi was not included in the group. 

Enzi says he wants to move to a biennial budgeting process. Instead of passing all 12 federal spending bills each year, he wants to pass six of them in even-numbered years and the other six in odd-numbered years. 

“Then the agencies know what they’re doing for two years, not just one year. And they don’t have to spend down their money twice in two years, they only have to spend it down once in two years,” he said. 

He also wants to change the names of congressional committees. He argues the Budget Committee should be renamed the Debt Control Committee, tasked with setting up guidelines for achieving fiscal discipline, and the Appropriations Committee should be renamed the Appropriations and Budget Committee. 

A third idea is to increase communication between the Finance Committee, which is tasked with raising revenue, and the Appropriations panel, which is charged with spending it “to come up with the — probably — amount of revenue and spending each year,” Enzi said. 

Lankford, who served with Perdue on last year’s Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, warned that Congress may not pass another budget again without substantial procedural changes. 

“I would love to see a budget, [but] I’m doubtful we will,” he said. “I’m not sure when we’re going to see a budget the next time.”

“From here on out it’s going to be deeming a number and not even going through the formal budget at all.”

Deeming is a process whereby Congress can set top-line spending numbers without voting on a broader budget. Sometimes it’s able to slip through on a voice vote.  

Lankford said some of his colleagues “are afraid of the requirement to balance in 10 years.”

A Senate GOP aide said there is no statutory requirement that the budget balance over the next decade, but a Republican conference rule requires the president to submit a budget that balances over 10 years to the Congress, which some lawmakers see as putting pressure on them to adopt a balance budget proposal.