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Budget Disagreements Bedevil House GOP

House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn., continues to look for agreement amid GOP factions on the spending blueprint. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn., continues to look for agreement amid GOP factions on the spending blueprint. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Budget Committee is unlikely to unveil a fiscal 2018 budget resolution until after the Independence Day recess as Chairwoman Diane Black continues to struggle to marry competing interests on using the reconciliation process to cut mandatory spending.

Conservatives are pushing for several hundred billion dollars in mandatory savings cuts through reconciliation, with House Freedom Caucus members saying the Budget Committee’s latest offer of $200 billion in cuts over 10 years is not enough to win their support. Meanwhile, committee chairmen are pushing back on a continually increasing target, saying they need to preserve some of those savings for other legislative negotiations.

“Those committees have other obligations, and it’s a matter of us finding a way to move forward,” Black told reporters Tuesday.

While negotiations continue around mandatory savings cuts, leadership announced during a GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that there is agreement on topline spending numbers of $621.5 billion for defense (with an extra $10 billion added to the Overseas Contingency Operations war-time fund to appease defense hawks) and $511 billion for nondefense discretionary spending; appropriators are beginning to mark up bills to those toplines.

Black said she did not have a date for when the budget will be released but she remains “adamant” that House Republicans will get to one, noting they are “very close.” The Tennessee Republican said she sees a viable path to the 218 votes needed for the House to adopt a budget resolution, and suggested she is holding off on a committee markup until GOP leaders secure that level of support.

“I will pass out of committee what we believe will be good for this conference and that we believe will also pass with 218 on the floor,” she said.

Some Republicans are beginning to question whether the conference can overcome its differences and pass a budget, something they fell short of last year.

“It’s a hard one,” Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, said when asked if he sees a path to 218 on a budget resolution.

Dent said he believes the pursuit of mandatory savings cuts may be endangering the GOP’s plan to overhaul the tax code, since both are being discussed in the context of the budget reconciliation process.

“If tax reform is the goal, dealing with entitlement changes simultaneously I believe makes the tax reform effort much harder, not easier,” he said. “We just set ourselves up to cutting taxes for businesses, while potentially weakening the safety net programs for the regular people.”

Other moderates have also cautioned that the effort to do mandatory spending cuts through reconciliation, which has the support of the House’s two conservative caucuses, the Republican Study Committee and the Freedom Caucus, could derail a tax overhaul.

“No budget, no tax reform, and that’s why there should be a sense of urgency to get this done quick,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said, suggesting that still remains a priority along with cutting mandatory savings.

The North Carolina Republican said there’s still “some back and forth” regarding the reconciliation target and how much each committee is willing to contribute toward the cuts.

“I’ve heard the number $200 billion; I’ve got some guys I hear they’re asking for more,” he said of the overall target.

Among the Republicans pushing for more are the hardline conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus. While they have not as a group agreed on a specific target, Chairman Mark Meadows said there is consensus among the group that $200 billion over 10 years is not enough.

“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 the mandatory spending,” the North Carolina Republican said.

Meadows said the Freedom Caucus has shown a willingness to support the higher topline numbers the Budget Committee has negotiated if they were paired with more mandatory savings cuts. But ultimately the path forward on a budget involves a deal with the Senate on either repealing, suspending or busting the spending caps in the Budget Control Act, he said.

“To appropriate to these numbers without an agreement in the Senate is just an exercise which will not provide great fruit,” Meadows said.

While the Budget Committee members have no objection to a higher amount of mandatory savings cuts, their problem is getting the authorizing committee chairman to pony up the needed savings to meet the reconciliation target.

House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway is among the chairmen who is still negotiating with Black and the budget writers. He has push backed against conservatives’ call for deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, saying he needs to preserve some of those savings to create a “glide path” off SNAP in order to get a farm bill passed next year.

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