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‘Views and estimates’ markup becomes political fodder

Former chairman: ‘This isn’t a good harbinger of things to come’

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is calling out his GOP counterpart for changing his tune on budget documents.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is calling out his GOP counterpart for changing his tune on budget documents. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Budget season is coming, and so are “views and estimates” markups. Well, for some committees, that is.

Every year, before the president releases his budget, committees are required by the 1974 law that established the modern budget process to send a letter to the House Budget Committee advising of their policy priorities and how funds for programs and agencies under their jurisdiction should be allocated.

However, whether the panels actually hold a markup session on their views and estimates before they are sent to the Budget panel — which is not a requirement of the budget law — is the billion-dollar question.

About two weeks ago, like others before him, Budget Chairman Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas, sent instructions to all committee chairs asking them to submit their annual views and estimates.

“We are encouraged that many in Congress are focusing more on our unsustainable fiscal situation and want a plan to improve the Nation’s fiscal outlook, and your Committee’s Views and Estimates will provide the critical input necessary for the Committee on the Budget to construct a budget that achieves this priority,” the instructions said.

Arrington’s letter also includes a plug to committee leaders to hold open markup sessions for their views and estimates letters before sending them along to the Budget panel.

“Committees are reminded to mark up their Views and Estimates in an open meeting and afford the requisite days for Members to file Minority or Additional Views,” Arrington’s instructions said.

That’s a new twist that wasn’t included in prior years’ instructions, such as a 2022 letter to then-Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., from former House Budget Chair John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who retired after the 117th Congress.

Arrington set a deadline of March 8 for panels to submit their views and estimates, or the day before President Joe Biden’s expected budget release. That’s an unusually quick timeline, given the 1974 budget law sets a deadline of six weeks after the White House sends its budget up to Capitol Hill, but Biden’s budget is also being released about one month late.

For some panels like Armed Services, it’s standard practice not to hold views and estimates markups. For others it’s typical.

For the Natural Resources Committee, the decision to hold a views and estimates markup has been a regular point of debate, although recent practice under both parties’ leadership has been to skip such sessions.

During the last Congress, like most Republicans, then-Natural Resources ranking member Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., promised a return to fiscal responsibility and regular order if the GOP won the midterms and reclaimed gavels from the Democrats.

In April 2021, Westerman called for a views and estimates markup in a letter to Grijalva, saying it was an “important and time-sensitive matter.”

“To ensure that we are good stewards of taxpayer resources, it is incumbent upon us as legislators to engage in vigorous discussions when addressing any budgetary matters,” the letter said. “I stand ready to work with you to chart a fiscally responsible course for our nation and the management of our public lands, waters and resources.”

But now, two months into the 118th Congress with the debt ceiling looming and budget matters top of mind, the panel’s majority told Democratic staff that Westerman would not be holding a markup on the views and estimates after all, according to minority staff.

‘Chaos and about-faces’

“The issue is not just the actual markup itself,” Grijálva said in a statement. “The issue is whether my Republican counterparts are going to be a majority that governs with consistency and integrity, or one that is marked by chaos and about-faces. I’m afraid this isn’t a good harbinger of things to come.”

On Monday, Grijálva wrote to Westerman, calling on him to follow through with his 2021 request and promises of regular order now that he is chairman. “Let me note that a markup is necessary for regular order, not just in your opinion, but also according to Chairman Arrington’s own instructions,” the letter said.

Grijalva said that last Congress he felt a markup was not and still is not necessary as the panel has had “ample opportunity to engage with each other and provide their differing views to the Budget Committee . . . without the need for a markup.”

But since Westerman made it a point to advocate for one, he is telling the chairman to follow his own advice.

“So, as I am confident that you are not planning to engage in developing the federal budget in a manner that you have said is categorically imprudent, I write to say that I hope that I will have the opportunity to participate in such a markup,” the letter said.

To Grijalva, Arrington’s language on holding views and estimates markups is “new and unambiguous,” and indicates that Westerman ought to follow suit.

Aides to Westerman did not respond to requests for comment.

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