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Arrington sets House budget resolution markup next week

Movement on balanced-budget blueprint comes as GOP speaker tries to shore up his right flank

Rep. Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas, walks down the House steps of the Capitol on May 18.
Rep. Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas, walks down the House steps of the Capitol on May 18. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

​The House Budget Committee is planning to mark up a fiscal 2024 budget resolution on Sept. 20, ending months of skepticism about whether that would happen.

House Budget Chairman Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas, has long said he was committed to producing a budget, which is an obligation of Congress under the 1974 law establishing the annual requirement as well as the Budget panels themselves.

But for both policy and political reasons, there had been major doubts.

Some Republicans have been worried that deep spending cuts envisioned in the budget would be used by Democrats in campaign ads against Republicans.

And even if House Republicans unite behind the budget and adopt it, there is no path for the House and Senate to agree on a budget resolution since Democrats and Republicans have deep divisions over tax and spending policy.

The one thing both parties’ leadership agree on is no changes to Social Security and Medicare benefits, with that issue becoming a lightning rod early this year. President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., both took those programs off the table in debt limit talks.

Yet in talks with conservatives holding out initially against voting for him for speaker, McCarthy also pledged to put a blueprint on the floor for returning the federal budget to balance within a 10-year timeframe. Later, GOP leaders appeared to back off that deadline, while still promising a balanced budget would be reached in their plan at some later date.

Now with conservatives in open revolt over fiscal 2024 appropriations bills and threatening not only to shut the government down but also to try and oust McCarthy as speaker, the timing of Arrington’s plan makes sense.

According to Semafor, which first reported Arrington was planning to revive a budget resolution, the plan would leave Social Security and Medicare untouched but still eliminate the deficit in 10 years. However, the blueprint would establish a bipartisan commission to recommend changes to the retiree benefit programs to ensure long-term solvency.

Defense spending would take a hit, Semafor reported, though an aide later said that was not the case and that military spending would in fact be spared.

Arrington’s intent to balance the budget is made more difficult because the budget is expected to assume extensions of tax cuts enacted in 2017 that are expiring after 2025, which the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates could cost $3.3 trillion over a decade.

The Congressional Budget Office’s most recent outlook sees more than $20 trillion in deficits piling up over the next decade, with $2.9 trillion in red ink in the final year of the 10-year budget window, fiscal 2033.

One way Arrington’s blueprint would attempt to pave the way for more revenue is by assuming faster economic growth than the current CBO projections, according to people familiar with his thinking.

In June, the conservative Republican Study Committee unveiled its own alternative budget blueprint, purporting to balance in as little as seven years. That plan would also make the 2017 tax cuts permanent, but it also takes some politically problematic steps to shore up Social Security and Medicare, including raising the Social Security retirement age.

Assuming Arrington has the votes to get his version through committee, House GOP leaders are expected to put it on the floor. But the timing is unclear with the focus on averting a partial government shutdown before the Oct. 1 appropriations deadline.

The politics could be tricky for House GOP centrists, however, considering the measure is likely to go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Senate Budget Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has no plans to bring up a budget resolution in his committee. For one thing, going to the floor would trigger a “vote-a-rama” session of virtually unlimited amendments, putting members of his own party on the spot with politically motivated amendments from Republicans. 

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