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Having cleared one budget already in 2017, it’s unclear how soon congressional Republicans will start work on the next one. But if history is any guide, it could be a while.
Typically, the annual budget resolution—a largely nonbinding blueprint the party in power uses to highlight its preferred policies—is marked up in committee in March, with final adoption in mid-April or sometimes early May. And no lawmaker has said that will not be the case again this year.
But several factors augur for a likely delay on the fiscal 2018 budget, some out of lawmakers’ hands and some a matter of practical politics.
One of the factors out of lawmakers’ hands is the timing of any budget submissions by President-elect Donald Trump.
First budgets from a new White House typically are delayed beyond the statutory submission date—the first Monday in February—as the new administration gets settled in. While a new White House may send up broad outlines—as President Barack Obama did on Feb. 26, 2009, and George W. Bush did on Feb. 28, 2001—it would still likely be after the budget deadline, which falls on Feb. 6 this year.
“There’s a whole series of possibilities on why it could run a little bit late,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said early Jan. 12, right after the Senate adopted the fiscal 2017 budget.
“President Obama seldom got his budget to us on time, which delayed the budget process,” he said. “It seems like a new president might have some leeway in getting a budget to us. I’m hoping that it’s a budget that covers a lot of the principles that we’re interested in and that we’re able to work with.”
Also complicating the budget timing picture is the April 28 expiration date of the current continuing resolution that provides funding for most government agencies. The target date for the House and Senate to agree on a budget is April 15, but there are no penalties for it being missed.
Lawmakers typically leave Washington for their districts to observe the spring religious holidays of Easter and Passover. For the House, that means no votes in the April 10 and April 17 weeks.
That in turn could mean much of lawmakers’ time prior to April 28 is taken up by deciding whether to write an omnibus funding bill to wrap up the fiscal 2017 appropriations process or to have another continuing resolution through the end of the budget year.
Another factor that could delay the budget may be a planned overhaul to the U.S. tax system.
Because the budget resolution sets the desired revenue levels through the budget window, policy choices involving both the Affordable Care Act and a tax overhaul would have an impact on the budget. And the need to resolve the issue of whether a tax overhaul will include a net tax cut could slow budget writing, one Senate Republican aide said.
Despite those potential obstacles, the recent record of first-year budgets when the same party controls Congress has been good. In 2001, the House and Senate passed their budgets in late March and early April, with a conference report last adopted May 10. In 2009, action on the budget was completed April 29.
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