Budget chairmanship suddenly up for grabs

Greg Nash

The chairmanship of the House Budget Committee is up for grabs now that President-elect Donald Trump has selected Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to take the helm of the federal health department. 

Rep. Todd Rokita, the Budget Committee’s vice chairman, on Tuesday quickly said he will seek the top job if Price is confirmed as the next secretary of Health and Human Services.

The Indiana Republican “is interested in pursuing the chairmanship at the appropriate time,” a spokesman told The Hill. Rokita has served on the committee since joining Congress in 2011, and touted his Budget work with Price and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a statement praising Price’s nomination.

Rokita “intimately knows the inner workings of the budget process,” read the statement, and “worked hand in glove” with Price and Ryan, a former Budget chairman himself.

The Budget Committee will play a critical role next year as Republicans seek to enact an ambitious agenda under Trump. Whoever holds the gavel will also shoulder the difficult and complex task of shepherding legislation through Congress under a process known as budget reconciliation.

A House Appropriations Committee source said Ryan will have enormous sway over who becomes the next Budget chairman.

The chairmanships are decided by the Republican Conference’s Steering Committee. Ryan holds four votes on that panel, giving him substantial power. Ryan helped Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) win the race for the House Ways and Means Committee chairmanship last November, succeeding the Speaker in the role.

Ryan spoke in favor of Brady during the Steering Committee meeting, helping the Texan edge out Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio).

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said the Speaker won’t publicly back a candidate for the Budget chairmanship.

“That is a decision for the Steering Committee,” Strong said.

Several senior committee Republicans could jump into the race to succeed Price. 

The list of possible candidates includes Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), both of whom are Appropriations subcommittee chairmen known as “cardinals.” Both men also serve as Appropriations liaisons to the Budget panel.

Diaz-Balart’s office had no comment, but one GOP source suggested the congressman didn’t appear to be ruling out a bid for the Budget gavel.

“He wants to work with new administration to implement the reforms that were so clearly demanded by the voters this election cycle,” the GOP source said.

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) would also be a strong contender for Budget chair, but she’s widely expected to run for governor in 2018. Black, a registered nurse, is also vice chair of the Republican Doctors Caucus and could be a key player in crafting an ObamaCare replacement.

Black’s office did not respond to questions. 

Lawmakers are returning to Washington from Thanksgiving break, and Price’s fresh nomination makes the state of the race to succeed him unclear. Only Rokita has announced his intention to run.

“We’re learning where the timeline is at,” said an aide to a Budget committee member. “It’s kind of wait and see situation right now.”

Price could leave his chairmanship before the year ends to give his successor time to settle in before a critical opening stretch for Republicans.

The next chairman will oversee what’s expected to be one of the most productive — and most complex — budget years in recent memory.  

House and Senate Republicans will have to fund the government twice, and GOP leaders are also eying a complex budget process known as reconciliation, which Price has said in the past will likely be used twice next year as well. 

Republicans will look to deal a direct blow to ObamaCare with a reconciliation bill early in Trump’s presidency, possibly in the first 100 days. 

The second bill, which could pass in the late fall, would be aimed at overhauling Medicare and Medicaid, Price told reporters just after the election.

Reconciliation will be an invaluable tool for Republicans because it will allow them to move legislation through the Senate with just 51 votes, bypassing a Democratic filibuster. 

But any policymaking through reconciliation is extremely tricky, requiring careful consideration of Senate rules and particular attention to the budget effects.

Tags Diane Black Donald Trump Kevin Brady Paul Ryan

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