GOP Undecided Yet Whether to Balance Budget in 10 Years: Black

By Jonathan Nicholson

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), the interim chairman of the House Budget Committee, said there has been no decision yet on whether the House Republican budget for fiscal year 2018 will aim to balance within 10 years, as recent GOP budgets have.

The goal of getting to balance within 10 years has been seen as particularly daunting this year, given the demands of trying to boost military spending, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and increase infrastructure outlays, while not increasing taxes.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office laid out how difficult balancing in 10 years will be when it released its annual budget outlook Jan. 24. In the outlook, the CBO said the budget shortfall for 2017 was expected to be $559 billion, slightly less than projected in August, but the cumulative deficit over the 2018-2027 budget window would be $9.426 trillion.

‘Serious About Our Debt.’

In an interview with Bloomberg BNA on Feb. 1, Black said the goal of the budget will be “sustainability,” not necessarily a specific window within which to hit budget balance.

“Another decision that has not been made and that we will certainly have a conversation about as we move forward,” Black said when asked about the 10-year balance goal.

“I think sustainability and being able to sustain a spending pattern that will eventually get us to that point—where we’re not continuing to have the debt out of control—is really the goal, whether it is 10 years or whether it’s 11 years. Giving the American people a plan that shows that we are serious about our debt and our spending and getting that under control will be important,” she said.

As interim chairman, Black has succeeded Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who has been tapped by President Trump to head the Health and Human Services Department. Black confirmed that she intends to run for the post on a permanent basis once Price is confirmed.

Trump Budget Draft

Black said it was unclear when the Budget Committee will mark up a fiscal 2018 budget blueprint, noting her initial priority since taking the gavel is to get the reconciliation bill that will spin out of the fiscal 2017 budget resolution through the House. That bill is part of Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and its timeline has slipped from the Jan. 27 target date in the budget for legislative language to be developed.

“Another piece of this that’s just a little uncertain is when we’ll get the president’s budget. We expect to maybe to have something at the end of February that will just be in a more draft form,” she said.

Another variable is how long it will take for Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to be confirmed as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget. Consideration of Mulvaney at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was delayed Feb. 1 after the ranking Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked for more time to review Mulvaney’s background records.

“If you can’t get your administration in place, it’s awfully hard to get a budget out,” Black said. “I’m really hopeful that the Senate will stop this logjam and that they will get these confirmations done.”

‘Continuing to Listen.’

After getting the reconciliation bill through the House and getting an FY 2018 budget adopted, Black said she would turn her attention to budget process changes, an issue that had been a high priority for Price. The most controversial part of Price’s proposal was to move to a biennial process instead of the current annual budget and appropriations process.

In recent years, the process of getting a budget blueprint for appropriators to work from has often been hamstrung, particularly in the Senate. Appropriators in general have opposed a biennial process, saying it would reduce their ability to hold agencies accountable.

“I am continuing to listen on biennial. I understand the arguments on both sides. I think there are very valid arguments on each side,” Black said. “I think there’s merit to the argument on both sides and the concerns on both sides and we need to listen to everyone to figure that out.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Nicholson in Washington at jnicholson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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