Congress faces tough road to balanced budget

Congress faces tough road to balanced budget
© Getty Images

The House and Senate Budget committees are taking a cue from President Trump and gearing up to offer resolutions that would balance the federal budget over the course of a decade — but the road to a balanced budget could be harder than the president believes.

“I think it’s going to be really hard, and it should look hard because balancing the budget is hard. The Trump budget makes it look easy because they do it by stacking the deck,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Trump’s budget was criticized for relying on several gimmicks and a dose of fuzzy math to eliminate the deficit, including significantly higher economic growth projections than most experts think are feasible and double-counting the budgetary effects of the growth. 

Goldwein explained that the difference between Trump's proposal and Congress's proposal is that the latter is actually constraining for the rest of the year.


The Senate, for example, could use the same rosy economic projections as the White House to project high levels of revenue, but that would become the baseline around which future legislation would be measured. 

Similarly, the Congressional Budget Act requires that the economic assumptions laid out in a budget resolution be consistent, though exactly how that plays out may depend on rulings by the Senate parliamentarian.

“I’m very concerned that when they see how hard it is, they’ll take the Trump route. I’d rather have a budget that’s unbalanced but realistic,” Goldwein said.

Trump’s budget also made deep cuts into nondefense discretionary programs and anti-poverty programs that many members of Congress are loath to accept, meaning they will have to find other ways to reduce spending. Alternatively, they could propose new sources of revenue, which is politically tricky for Republicans.

“What we’ve said about the president’s budget is that it’s their budget, and we’re going to come up with ours,” said a GOP Senate aide. “Does it maybe take a few ideas or mirror a few things? Sure.”

The House, which plans to unveil its budget plans in mid-June and hopes to pass a resolution before the Fourth of July, will have an easier time of it than the Senate. 

Before getting to its own budget resolution, the Senate must pass its own version of the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill that the House already passed.

While the Senate plans on introducing language for its healthcare bill next week, healthcare will continue to cast a shadow over the budget process. 

Republicans want to use a special budgetary procedure tied to the 2017 budget to pass healthcare with a simple majority, meaning the final conferenced healthcare bill has to pass before they can complete the conference of the budget resolution.

Another complicating factor is the debt ceiling, which the White House says must be addressed before the August recess.

One idea for dealing with the debt ceiling was to tie it to the budget resolution, which would mean healthcare, the budget and the debt issue would all need to be wrapped up in the coming eight weeks.