Freedom Caucus, Budget Chair Black Confer on FY18 Resolution

By Jonathan Nicholson

Leaders of the House Freedom Caucus said they made progress in talks with House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) on the budget resolution, but the group’s requests could make it tougher for other party groups to support.

A spokesman for the Budget Committee said June 15 that no decision had been made on whether the panel will mark up a resolution in the week of June 18. Traditionally, because budgets are politically difficult votes, House majorities have usually tried to hold a committee markup of a budget resolution and floor adoption in consecutive weeks.

If that pattern holds, a markup would be needed in the week of June 18 in order to vote on the budget before lawmakers leave for the week-long July 4 break. Leaders had hoped to hold a party conference on the budget resolution June 16 to give members an idea of what to expect, but that has been delayed until the week of June 18 because of the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

“I think it made progress, that we let our positions be known,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said of the meeting between House Freedom Caucus leaders and Black. “I think Chairman Black had already made great progress on some of those.” Meadows is the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, a group of libertarian and conservative House Republicans.

“I think there’s the makings of a deal that could be made before next Friday, at least in principle,” Meadows said.

Black: ‘Good Discussions’

“We just had real good discussions,” Black said after meeting with HFC’s board members. “We are still working on all aspects of the budget.”

Meadows said his group is willing to allow higher discretionary funding for defense and non-defense programs than they would prefer, if they get their preferred language on reconciliation instructions, directives to other congressional committees to write legislation making changes in spending, revenue, the budget deficit or the debt limit that would then be protected from filibuster in the Senate.

The HFC wants to ensure changes in entitlement programs are made along with a dramatic overhaul of tax laws as a result of any reconciliation directives in the budget. While the budget can’t direct other committees to make specific policy proposals, HFC members have said they want hundreds of billions of dollars in budget savings from imposing work requirements on recipients of federal aid to the poor as well as time limits for those programs.

But linking potentially large cuts in those programs with a tax revamp may spook party moderates, who already fear they took a political hit by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier in the year. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said he favors waiting to cut spending until next year.

“My preference is any budget should include reconciliation instructions for tax reform only and save that for next year,” Dent told Bloomberg BNA. Dent is a co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group of House Republicans.

Waiting on Health Care

The budget also faces potential headwinds from defense hawks, and from appropriators wanting more money for non-defense programs. Defense spending advocates have called for $640 billion for the Pentagon in fiscal year 2018 regular appropriations and proponents of non-defense programs will not want to see their programs hit as an offset, as the White House budget has urged.

“There are probably three different factions, with various overlap, who could stop a budget deal from happening,” said one Republican congressman.

Another wild card remains in the form of the ACA repeal effort in the Senate. A new fiscal 2018 budget can’t be adopted until that bill has been disposed of without making it vulnerable to a filibuster in the Senate. That could also delay the markup of a budget resolution, which in turn could delay tax writers’ efforts to work on a tax code revamp, until they are assured of a filibuster-proof legislative vehicle.

On the Democratic side, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said Democrats intend to offer their own budget plan. “We’ve pretty much agreed on what ours is, where we’re going,” Yarmuth said. While the House GOP budget will aim for balance by its final year, Yarmuth said the Democratic alternative will instead aim to keep the deficit as a proportion of the economy stable instead of increasing.

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