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Republicans close in on budget deal

Republicans close in on budget deal
© Greg Nash

House and Senate Republicans are closing in on a budget deal, signaling confidence that they can muscle a joint blueprint through Congress for the first time in a decade.

Negotiators are expected to release the agreement on Tuesday at the earliest, according to congressional aides, with GOP leaders planning to hold votes on the resolution by the end of the week.

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Aides say the final resolution will drop the House’s plan to transition part of Medicare into a premium-support program by 2024. Senate Republicans facing reelection in 2016 had balked at that proposal, viewing it as politically risky.

For fiscal 2016, which will start on Oct. 1, Republicans have made clear that they want to stick to the $1.017 trillion discretionary budget cap set by a 2011 law. The sequestration ceiling limits the Pentagon to $523 billion in spending next year, while capping non-defense domestic programs at $493 billion.

To circumvent the Pentagon’s cap, Republicans plan to include a provision in the budget deal that hikes a war fund to about $96 billion, aides said.

Defense hawks in the House won the extra war funding last month, beating back objections from fiscal hawks who complained it would increase the deficit by roughly $20 billion.

Republicans also plan to use a budget procedure known as reconciliation to send a repeal of ObamaCare to President Obama’s desk, aides said. Once authorizing committees produce deficit-cutting bills and conference them with the other chamber, the tool only requires a majority vote in the Senate.

The ObamaCare plan could change, however, if the Supreme Court rules in June against the Obama administration in the King v. Burwell case. A ruling against the administration could take away subsidies from people in 37 states, many of them led by GOP governors, that help cover the cost of ObamaCare on state-based health exchanges.

Aides confirmed Republicans don’t plan to use the reconciliation process to cut Pell Grants or food stamps.

House GOP leaders have expressed a desire for flexibility in the reconciliation process. While budget negotiators might provide policy recommendations to accompany reconciliation instructions, those policy changes will be left up to authorizing committees this summer.

The Associated Press was the first to report some of the budget details.

Reconciliation was a major hurdle for GOP negotiators because the separate House and Senate budgets adopted in March contained very different approaches.

While the House budget issued reconciliation instructions to 13 different authorizing committees, the Senate’s blueprint issued them only to two that have jurisdiction over healthcare.

The release of the deal will come about a month after the original blueprints were adopted, and just a few days before the House is set to vote on the first two 2016 spending bills.

It also comes just a few weeks past the April 15 legal deadline to adopt a joint conference agreement. Republicans originally eyed that date as their original goal, but an Easter recess delayed work on the final agreement.

Though striking a budget agreement is a major test for the GOP majority, the real fight will come later this year, when Republicans will work to pass a series of spending bills that Obama could veto. 

— This story was updated at 8:04 p.m.