Senate GOP budget cuts less than House, balances in decade
Senate Republicans released a budget Wednesday that would balance in 10 years and cut spending by $5.1 trillion over the next decade.
The blueprint from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) differs greatly from a House GOP blueprint introduced a day earlier that balances in nine years and cuts $5.5 trillion in spending.
Most notably, the Senate GOP budget only provides $58 billion for a war spending account known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund, much less than the $90 billion included in the House GOP budget.
The Senate blueprint also imposes a 60-vote point of order against any legislation requesting more than $58 billion for the war fund. That would set a high hurdle for legislation requesting a total above that threshold and could provide the Senate with leverage in negotiations with the House.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill he “will almost certainly” introduce an amendment during the panel’s Thursday markup that would increase the OCO funding to $90 billion.
The differences could make it difficult for Republicans in the two chambers to agree to a final House-Senate compromise budget.
Senate Republicans have a much smaller majority than House Republicans, and they have their eyes on the 2016 elections, when several GOP senators face tough reelections in states President Obama won in the last two presidential cycles. Overall, Senate Republicans are defending 24 seats in 2016.
The House had included the extra war funding to appease members who want to increase defense spending. Ceilings on defense and nondefense spending set in 2011 are set to go back into force in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The Senate budget also differs from the House budget on healthcare.
The Senate blueprint includes budget reconciliation instructions that could provide Congress with an avenue to answer a Supreme Court decision on ObamaCare later this year.
The court is determining whether to strike down subsidies offered to consumers who buy insurance through ObamaCare’s federal exchange. About 8 million people could lose the subsidies if the court rules against the administration this summer.
Enzi only gives reconciliation instructions to two Senate committees: the Finance and Health panels. The House gave instructions to 13 committees.
Enzi’s budget tells the two panels they have until July 31 to submit their reconciliation bills, which would allow them to respond to the court, which is expected to rule by the end of June.
“The court’s decision could significantly alter the levels of spending in the budget resolution,” a report on the blueprint released by Enzi states. “Consequently, the Senate Republican budget includes reconciliation instructions for healthcare, but the actual contours of that legislation are unknowable at this time.”
The reconciliation language is important because bills written under the budget rules cannot be filibustered in the Senate. This would make it much easier for them to be approved.
The Finance and Health committees would be tasked with producing bills that would reduce the deficit by at least $1 billion.
The broad language gives the panels wide latitude to decide whether to use the budget procedure to produce reconciliation bills that reform the tax code or repeal ObamaCare, among other things.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Finance Committee, warned Wednesday that if Republicans use the language to do tax reform, it would lead to a partisan fight. He urged Republicans to seek tax reform through regular order.
There has also been chatter about using reconciliation to raise the debt ceiling. The nation hit its limit on Monday, though the Treasury Department is expected to be able to put off the deadline for raising the limit until fall.
The Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the debt limit, and the reconciliation instructions could allow it to raise the debt limit with the budgetary tool.
Reconciliation can only be triggered, however, once the Senate and House reach a joint conference agreement on their competing budgets.
Like the House budget, the Senate blueprint repeals ObamaCare and doesn’t touch Social Security.
On Medicare, the Senate budget would meet Obama’s request to find $430 billion in savings. It calls for converting Medicaid to a model similar to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that is largely based on block grants to states.
Enzi’s budget would also reform welfare programs, which would lead to $600 billion in cuts. Other mandatory spending cuts include reductions to funding for conservation, agriculture and education programs, and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
Altogether, the budget would cut $4.3 trillion in mandatory spending over the next 10 years and $97 billion from discretionary programs.
The budget stops short of offering an ObamaCare replacement plan, but it includes a reserve fund that could lead to such legislation.
Another reserve fund, which Graham and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) had lobbied for, would address spending ceilings on defense and domestic discretionary spending.
The fund could be used to prepare for a deal similar to the one reached in December 2013 between then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and then-Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that offered relief from the spending limits. The White House has been urging Congress to work on a similar agreement this year.
The Senate Budget Committee said it aims to reach a conference agreement with House Republicans by April 15, after lawmakers return from a two-week Easter recess.
Updated at 8:16 p.m.