Not long ago, congressional Republicans said authoring and passing a budget were the basics of governing. They flew into open rage when Harry Reid’s Senate Democrats took a pass on advancing a fiscal blueprint, and threatened to withhold lawmakers’ pay as a punishment. And they persuaded voters to return them to power because they would make Capitol Hill work again.
But here we are, on April 13, with Republicans holding both chambers of Congress, and there isn’t a budget in sight.
“We’re obviously not going to do a budget between now and April 15. But we’re leaving open the possibility we could do one later in the year,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
In fact, they won’t just miss the mid-April deadline by a day or two. There’s a better-than-even chance that the House and Senate will never pass a budget together, and there’s an even better chance that neither chamber will pass a budget before the election.
The reality lays bare a few critical dynamics. Republicans have undermined one of their core arguments for governing. On key fiscal matters, they have not been able to normalize legislating and hopes for regular order have been dashed. And that Congress can completely forgo a budget without consequence shows that the non-binding process means little and proves to be just an annoyance for the party in power.
It’s all enough to make some Republicans want to abandon the broken process altogether.
“It’s a hoax,” fumed Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. “The assumptions that are made are totally unrealistic; there’s no policies behind them to follow up. So [what] I’m in favor of is a total redo of the entire budget process, because it’s such a joke as it is right now … It is meaningless relative to our fiscal discipline.”
In 2012, as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell eyed the majority leader job, he committed to doing a budget “every year” when he got the majority. In 2014, he reiterated plans to pass a budget, which the GOP did last year in a late-night series of votes. All along House Republicans — led by now Speaker Paul Ryan — had been passing their own budgets, often at the risk of being attacked by Democrats.
When asked Tuesday whether he would move forward with his own budget resolution McConnell said he’d look to whether Ryan, the former budget chairman, could cobble together a majority: “We’re waiting to see if the House is able to do a budget.”
Several senators privately said there are not 51 votes for a budget this year, pointing to mass opposition to the budget deal last year which increased some spending levels and set top-line spending at nearly $1.1 trillion into 2017.
But it’s also clear that the House cannot find a majority for the budget, and the Senate sees no reason to take a risk without cooperation from the House. House Republican aides have been skeptical all along that they would be able to stitch together enough votes to pass a fiscal blueprint. Conservatives want lower spending levels, defense hawks don’t want to cut spending and leadership is caught in between. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) operation spent time over the recess surveying the landscape, and made minimal progress, sources close to the process said.
Top GOP leadership aides hold open an infinitesimal possibility that they might be able to squeeze a budget through next week. If they can’t, they freely acknowledge the embarrassment. Ryan has said he would not squeeze the process through, but instead would leave it up to the membership to make a decision.
Much of this process is irrelevant, from a practical point of view. Congress passed a budget deal last year that set spending targets for two years. The Senate is expected to use those spending levels to write spending bills — despite conservative distaste for the top line. That is sure to spark tension between the House and Senate. But few seem to care.
“We’ve already got the spending targets. I would prefer to it just to keep the muscle memory of passing budgets — that’s something that past Congresses lost sight of,” said GOP Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. “We can move forward with the appropriations process with or without it.”
Never mind that Republicans criticized Democrats for doing the same thing two years ago.
“They will be held responsible for not doing it just like we were,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a former Budget Committee chairman who absorbed reams of criticism. “I’m not going to go after them on that, but they should remember that it’s not as easy when you’re managing things.”
Indeed, some Republicans are now saying that the budget process is unnecessary. Vulnerable Senate Republicans don’t want to undergo an all-night vote-a-rama that includes lots of hot-button gotcha votes, and House Republicans can’t stomach the spending levels from last year’s pact.
Instead Republicans are focusing on an even steeper hill than finding majority votes for a budget: the appropriations process and its 12 individual spending bills, which have not been passed by both chambers since 1994.
Several other Republicans said the party is focusing on how to make the budget have more teeth. One suggestion that would build on the GOP’s “No Budget, No Pay” act of the past: a proposal that would withhold lawmakers’ pay if the budgets don’t balance.
Powered by WPeMatico