Bigger than the Budget Battle (Feb. 23)

Mike and Co. –

The soap opera that is the federal budget making process saw sone minor prima donna pratfalls this week.  Nothing remotely on the scale of blocking the confirmation of a Supreme Justice.  But as Senate Budget’s ranking member Sen. Cardin warned at a breakfast today, you can forget regular order on the budget — after the President submits a nomination, all comity in the Senate will be gone until Election Day. 

Details and the latest below.  Taxes tomorrow (be still your heart, right?). 




Story in the Senate

At the same DSCC breakfast one month ago, Sen. Merkley announced that, to his surprise, Senate Budget Chair Mike Enzi was going to put out a manager’s mark for an FY17 budget resolution for Committee markup, for February.  Today, Enzi withdrew his markup plans, without announcing a reschedule date.

To add to the growing problems within the GOP, the party, led by Senator Mitch McConnell, has declared all-out war on Obama’s impending Supreme Court nomination — an “nomination abomination” — making it even more difficult to predict how these budget deliberations will end.

Histrionics of the House 

Even before Obama released his FY2017 budget proposal earlier this month, House Republicans made it a point to emphasize that it was DOA.  Now, GOP is running into some dead ends of its own.

Speaker Ryan announced early on that he intended to pass the budget through regular order this year — a process that hasn’t been successfully completed in a generation.  Due to internal dicisions and outside pressures, House Republicans have changed their tune.

Yesterday, House Budget announced plans for a proposal next month to stick with the spending levels set by last fall’s deal with the White House while also giving members the chance to vote on other billsthat would slash government spending. The compromise is meant to appease hard-right GOP members who vehemently opposed the Obama-Boehner budget agreement.  Per Ryan’s office: “This proposal enjoys the overwhelming support of the committee members, and the chairman looks forward to sharing it with the broader Conference as we continue moving this process forward.”

The conservative Freedom Caucus so far has supported Speaker Ryan’s overtures for cooperation on the budget.  But the GOP’s hard-right wing may not remain so understanding of the Speaker’s position, especially if their credentials are called into question by outside groups with sway over their base of support.   Heritage Action said Monday that the group would oppose any budget blueprint that sticks to the Obama-Boehner deal, which increases spending by about $30 billion.

Going Forward 

It won’t be an easy road ahead on the budget.   The conservative caucus has several dozen members, which gives it the power to torpedo any budget proposal that lacks at least some Democratic support.  If it decides to back the new proposal put forth by Chair Tom Price of House Budget, it would be likely for GOP leaders to be able to move forward.  Some members have voiced their willingness to cooperate, but the pull of outside right-wing groups may prove to be too strong.

Meanwhile, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said today that any Republican budget strategy that strays from the Obama-Boehner deal would be opposed by House Democrats.

The House Budget plan is to submit the proposal honoring the spending limits agreed to last year, while allowing the hard-right GOP wing to vote on other bills which would slash spending, mollifying the more hawkish members.

Dearth of Legislative Days

Lengthening the odds against Ryan, the House Budget is now working on a delayed schedule.  In mid-January, the House Budget Committee announced that it would be releasing its markup of the White House budget proposal early -– on February 25. However, that has also changedYesterdayThe Committee announced that it was now delaying its markup till sometime in March.  The change is curious for a few reasons.  It raises the question of why the House Budget Committee said it would have the markup done so early in the first place. Moreover, it goes against the House Republicans message of “getting things done” during this Congress.

Democrats are jumping on this delay already.  Nancy Pelosi said: “Yet again, it’s the Speaker’s own broken promises – and his own rhetoric – that are coming back to bite him.  Because while the Speaker pledged an end to dysfunctional House-Republican leadership, all the American people are seeing is more of the same.”

One thing is looks increasingly likely: that the nomination will exert a tidal force on at least the budget deliberations and everything else, through the election.



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