Budget crunch time for GOP

Greg Nash

Senate Republican leaders are facing budget crunch time.

They need to decide in the next ten days whether to move a budget, something they promised prior to winning the majority, or skip it and face charges of hypocrisy from Democrats. 

{mosads}GOP senators say they will only move a budget if the House passes one and privately acknowledge that few think the lower chamber can do that.

“We’re watching the House and what they can do. If they can do it then I’m confident that we’ll be voting on one too,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).

But if House Republicans, who are badly divided, fail to pass a budget, “it’s pretty much a moot issue,” Cornyn said.

“It takes both,” he added.

Another Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the Senate GOP conference is waiting to see if House Republicans can overcome their internal divisions to pass a budget.

“I don’t think anybody thinks that can happen,” the lawmaker said, projecting the chances of Senate action as low.

Failure to pass a budget would be an embarrassment for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously promised to pass a budget every year the Republicans had control of the Senate and in January vowed “a major effort to pass a budget.”

April 15 is a key date. After the 15th, the Senate Appropriations Committee can begin to move the annual spending bills without the passage of a budget.

McConnell said he expects the Appropriations panel to start moving soon, further eroding the incentive for taking the series of tough votes that are always part of the process of passing a budget.

“The budget issue has yet to be determined over here. But we’re going to go forward and approve as many appropriation bills as we possibly can consistent with the number that we agreed to last fall,” he told reporters Tuesday.

He said that would happen “within a couple weeks.”

Several endangered Republican senators facing re-election have said they don’t think a budget is necessary this year because the top-line spending numbers have already been set by a deal negotiated late last year between President Obama and congressional leaders. 

The view is catching on more broadly in the conference, especially as it looks less and less likely that House Republicans will unify behind a budget.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said if a budget fails to win a majority in the House, “let’s turn to regular order and appropriations bills, where we know there may be a productive outcome, something we can send to the president’s desk.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) insists he hasn’t given up on moving a budget just yet. He said earlier this week that his panel is “still working” on it.”

But it’s a touchy subject within the conference as several lawmakers argue the Senate should follow the law, which requires that a budget pass annually.

“I guess the budget law says we ought to have a budget. We ought to follow the law,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a senior member of the Budget Committee.

A source close to Enzi said, “until both chambers pass their own budgets, it’s premature to think about what will play out on either side” of the Capitol.

But other Republican sources familiar with deliberations among Republicans on the budget panel say there’s growing recognition that a budget will not move this year and the focus is shifting to budgetary reform.

Enzi has scheduled a hearing on “fixing the broken budget process” for April 13.

“I believe the congressional budget process is fundamentally broken,” he said Wednesday. “Only one budget resolution has been adopted by Congress in the past six years and only nine budgets have been adopted in past 18 years.

“Even when we do adopt a budget, it often fails to become a governing document,” he added.

Budget process reform is also a top priority of House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), who held a couple of hearings on the topic last year.

Freshman Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is a leading voice in that discussion. He wants to make sure Republicans don’t hit the same dead end in future Congresses.

He believes Congress would have more incentive to pass a budget if it had the force of law and was a more realistic fiscal roadmap. In recent years, it’s become more of a political document than anything that truly shapes the annual year-end fiscal negotiations. 


Tags Chuck Grassley John Cornyn Mike Enzi Mitch McConnell
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