No timeline for spending talks, White House budget director says
Without a topline spending deal, appropriators could be facing multiple stopgap funding extensions later in the year
Acting White House budget director Shalanda D. Young told a Senate panel Tuesday that there weren't any talks planned yet to hammer out a bipartisan deal on spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year.
But Young, a veteran House Appropriations Committee aide, said at a Senate Budget Committee hearing that "it has to be a bipartisan process" in order to get the fiscal 2022 spending bills enacted. Unlike budget reconciliation packages, appropriations bills need to get past the Senate's 60-vote cloture threshold to advance.
Young, who was confirmed for the No. 2 spot at the Office of Management and Budget, is considered a top candidate to get the formal nod as President Joe Biden's pick to head the budget office. She's been serving in an acting capacity since Biden's original nominee, Neera Tanden, withdrew from consideration.
[Young confirmed as OMB deputy director]
Young is used to sitting across the negotiating table from top GOP appropriators like Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby, who has consistently warned of a fiscal train wreck this fall and winter without a compromise on discretionary spending.
Biden's budget, released in full on May 28, proposed a $12.2 billion increase for defense programs, or 1.6 percent, while allocating a nearly $109 billion or 16.5 percent increase for domestic and foreign aid programs. Shelby, the top Republican on Senate Appropriations, and others like top Budget panel Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, say they can't support spending bills that adhere to those caps.
"Your budget, like every other president's budget, is probably not going to go very far but that's just the way it is around here," Graham said at Tuesday's hearing.
'Long, hard winter'
Speaking to reporters Monday, Shelby predicted "a long, hard winter here" without a bipartisan spending deal. He envisioned "multiple" stopgap bills to extend current funding beyond the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30 without triggering a partial government shutdown.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., has called for bipartisan, bicameral talks on discretionary spending levels to start quickly in order to avoid the scenario Shelby laid out.
But Young, in her first of several appearances defending Biden's budget on Capitol Hill this week, expressed a view that such an agreement may not be reached until later in the process. She told Graham at Tuesday's hearing that House and Senate appropriators “will have to work their will starting with where the president would like to see both go.”
The House could go its own way on appropriations caps starting as soon as next week, with a "deeming" resolution setting enforceable limits for floor consideration that come close to what Biden has proposed. The House Appropriations Committee is starting to consider its fiscal 2022 bills as soon as June 24, and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., says July will be set aside for floor consideration of the dozen spending measures.
Also on Monday, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters it was difficult to settle on topline appropriations figures without knowing the fate of the infrastructure and other spending proposals Biden has put forward. "I think that may be connected to overall conversations about infrastructure. A lot of money being spent," Durbin said.
It's not clear what Democrats' exact timeline is for moving forward on Biden's longer-term infrastructure and other proposals intended to prop up family assistance programs and low-income supports.
House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., has said he's ready to move ahead with budget reconciliation instructions whenever party leaders give him the green light. And Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders said Tuesday that next month he might offer a budget blueprint that would allow for a reconciliation bill combining Biden's $4 trillion-plus proposals.
Bipartisan infrastructure talks officially broke down between Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., later in the day. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the president spoke with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer about starting the budget process "so that legislation to advance the President’s economic priorities and tax reform plans could move to the Senate floor in July."
Above and beyond
Sanders, I-Vt., said in some areas he plans to press for policies that go beyond what Biden proposed.
Biden wants the government to pay for two years of community college for every American who would take advantage of it, but Sanders indicated he wants to expand the benefit beyond two-year colleges.
“That’s an area by the way we’re going to maybe expand a little bit on what the president’s idea is,” Sanders said. “I think we can go beyond community colleges in making them available to working families.”
Sanders has also said he wants to extend Medicare to more Americans as well as provide additional benefits under that program, such as dental, vision and hearing. He also wants to provide Medicare with the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices, among other proposals to try to cut drug costs and offset new health care spending.
Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also told reporters Tuesday he's on board with Medicare drug negotiation and with cutting subsidies that benefit drugmakers deemed to be "price gouging."
Republicans took issue with the roughly $3.6 trillion in revenue increases intended to offset Biden's programs, with more set to flow in after the first decade. Graham said the level of tax increases envisioned "will destroy the ability to create new jobs in this country."
Rick Scott, R-Fla., pointed to budget figures showing federal government revenue would jump by $593 billion, or 17 percent, from this year to next if Biden's plans were enacted.
“I’ve never seen the federal government be able to increase its receipts by 17 percent in one year," Scott said, adding that he didn't think the Senate would pass such substantial tax increases. That in turn would likely shrink Biden's spending ambitions, he said.
“My guess is if the Senate doesn’t pass the offsets the spending is also in danger, so we’d have to see the full package the Senate and House would move on,” Young replied.
Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.