House budget plan delayed again over welfare cuts

House budget plan delayed again over welfare cuts

The House Budget Committee will not mark up a budget resolution this week, as it had hoped to, amid lingering disagreements within the Republican caucus over spending levels.

“We’re just working really hard to get the final numbers put out,” said Budget Committee Chairman Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackLamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Juan Williams: The GOP's worsening problem with women How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit MORE (R-Tenn.).

The House Freedom Caucus is threatening to withhold its support from the budget resolution unless deeper cuts are made to mandatory spending, largely in welfare programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

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While the Budget Committee had settled on levels of $621 billion in defense spending, $511 billion on nondefense spending and mandatory cuts on the order of $150 billion, the Freedom Caucus wants to increase the cuts past $200 billion. 

Defense hawks have also been pushing for higher military spending; the defense spending bill being considered by appropriators assumes a top line number of $658.1 billion, well over the amount that had been considered by the budget committee. Other committee chairmen are reportedly pushing back on further cuts in their domains. 

That differences are splitting the party.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a moderate, said $150 billion is an "aggressive number to begin with." 

"It's hard to imagine going much farther than that," he said.

Higher cuts than that, he added, would make tax reform more politically difficult.

"We set ourselves up for cutting taxes for businesses while potentially weakening the safety net programs for lower-income people, so if you want to deal with entitlements, do it in next year’s budget, not this year’s,” he said.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, a Republican representative from South Carolina, said that he had found cuts on the order of $295 billion, but that negotiations were ongoing.

“We’re continuing to negotiate, trying to negotiate in good faith and not wanting to draw a line in the sand without seeing real numbers in terms of mandatory spending," he said.

"We’ve shown a real willingness to support higher numbers, I think we did that at 621 [billion dollars] and 511 [billion dollars], higher than what the president’s budget would indicate, and so it’s all a work in progress,” he added.

A budget resolution would have to be in place before the August recess, he said, to allow proper time for appropriations with the real budget numbers. House Appropriation subcommittees have already begun marking up some spending bills despite the lack of a top line number.