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Freedom Caucus May Push for More Than Tax Overhaul in Next Budget

Reconciliation instructions for overhauling welfare system among issues caucus plans to discuss, Meadows says

Rep. Mark Meadows signs pictures taken of him with constituents to send the constituents as a thank you for their time. (Lindsey McPherson/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Mark Meadows signs pictures taken of him with constituents to send the constituents as a thank you for their time. (Lindsey McPherson/CQ Roll Call)

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus are considering a push for broader reconciliation authority in the upcoming fiscal 2018 budget resolution that would allow Republicans to pursue policies beyond a tax code overhaul.

“We believe that writing the instructions more broadly will give us greater flexibility not only to get tax reform but also to address other areas simultaneously,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said in an interview here Friday.

One idea floated is including language in the reconciliation instructions that would allow committees of jurisdiction to look at policies for overhauling the welfare system, which, like a tax code rewrite, is one of the six planks of House Republicans’ “A Better Way” agenda. 

So far the push for a broader reconciliation instructions is just something individual Freedom Caucus members have discussed, Meadows said. The group’s nine-member board is expected to debate the idea more formally next week and come up with ideas they can present to the full caucus for discussion soon thereafter. 

The budget reconciliation process is not essential to passing legislation in the House, but it allows Republicans in the Senate to advance policy on a simple-majority vote without threat of a Democratic filibuster. Many of Republicans’ policy priorities are not ones Democrats share. 

In addition to welfare policy, members have also raised potentially providing reconciliation authority for other entitlement changes, “although there hasn’t really been a groundswell of support or focus on that to date,” Meadows said. 

The crux of the matter, though, is ensuring that Republicans don’t hamstring themselves in writing the fiscal 2018 budget reconciliation instructions the way they did in writing the fiscal 2017 instructions for health care, Meadows said. 

The Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees were the only two House panels given authority to draft legislation under the fiscal 2017 instructions, but some health care policies Republicans wanted to look at fell under the Judiciary and Commerce committees. For example, Commerce has the jurisdiction to allow insurers to sell across state lines — an idea many Republicans wanted to see in the health care bill, but one GOP leaders said was not allowed under the reconciliation rules. 

Overhauls of the tax code and welfare system primarily fall under the jurisdiction of Ways and Means, but there are some policies Republicans may want to explore that fall under panels. For example, the Agriculture Committee has jurisdiction over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, and Judiciary has jurisdiction over online sales tax issues. 

But before Republicans can move onto their fiscal 2018 budget reconciliation measure, they need to finish work on the health care bill, which is moving under the fiscal 2017 instructions. 

Meadows said he is “extremely optimistic” that Republicans will get the health care bill to the president’s desk, but that there has been talk about rewriting the fiscal 2017 reconciliation instructions if needed. 

“If we get bogged down on the health care debate, there has been some discussions about rewriting the instructions to allow for tax reform to go ahead and move forward either simultaneously with health care or instead of health care,” he said.

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