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Work on Fiscal 2018 Budget On Hold

More focus on health care bill

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., says that Congress’ budget is not necessarily President Donald Trump’s budget. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., says that Congress’ budget is not necessarily President Donald Trump’s budget. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Work on the fiscal 2018 budget resolution appears on hold until after Congress passes a repeal of the 2010 health care law.

But Republicans on the Budget and Appropriations committees do not appear concerned about the delayed timeline or the upcoming budget request from the White House, which will ask lawmakers to increase defense discretionary spending by $54 billion and pay for it by an equal cut to domestic discretionary spending bills.

That’s partly because the lawmakers in charge of spending decisions aren’t convinced the dramatic cuts to domestic spending being proposed by the Trump administration will actually make it into Congress’ budget resolution. Recent Washington Post reports have signaled possible sharp cuts to agencies including the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.

“Our budget is not necessarily the president’s budget and the president’s budget is his priorities,” said Rep. Tom Cole, who sits on the Budget Committee and chairs the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Oklahoma Republican indicated that when the House does take up its budget, lawmakers may not try to pay for increased defense spending by cuts to nondefense programs.

“We thought it was wrong when Democrats said for every increased dollar on defense, you had to increase domestic. It’s just as wrong to say for every increase on defense you have to cut domestic,” Cole said. “I think the new defense money is needed. I’m for it. But, I think, it ought to be offset on the entitlement side of the ledger.”

President Donald Trump, however, has vowed not to touch Social Security or Medicare, and lawmakers have shown little appetite for taking on entitlement programs right now.

Cole also appeared ready to protect spending on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which sits within the Health and Human Services section of the spending bill he oversees.

“Look, CDC is as important to defending the average American as the Department of Defense. You are a lot more likely to die in a pandemic than you are in a terrorist attack,” Cole said, when asked about how the GOP’s repeal and replace bill removal of a public health prevention fund would affect spending on the CDC in the upcoming fiscal year. “Having a robustly funded CDC, I think, is very much in the national interest.”

House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black and Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi both said this week that they won’t release the fiscal 2018 budget resolution text until after the repeal and replace legislation is passed. It’s unclear how soon passage would occur though two House committees began marking up their bills Wednesday.

That’s mostly because an agreed-to fiscal 2018 budget resolution would wipe out the fiscal 2017 budget resolution’s reconciliation instructions, which are being used to repeal and replace the health care law.

When asked how soon conversations might begin on the budget resolution, particularly about cuts to domestic spending, Black, a Tennessee Republican, said “We’re not working on that right now. We are working on repeal and replace.”

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen also said he has not begun to talk with GOP colleagues about how the topline spending number set by the budget resolution would affect the 12 appropriations bills that are supposed to fund the federal government during fiscal 2018.

“I don’t know,” the New Jersey Republican said.

Rep. John Culberson, chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee, would not say if he’ll push for fewer cuts to domestic spending, but was adamant that the House would have its own budget process.

“The president’s budget is a recommendation and it’s up to the Congress to work out how they finally handle it,” the Texas Republican said. “We’ll work through that process.”

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