CHN: House GOP Budget Delayed by Disagreements over Spending Cuts

Disagreements among House Republicans over their FY17 budget proposal caused House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) to postpone a committee meeting originally set for February 25 where the proposal would have been unveiled. Many members of the GOP, still unhappy that Congress last year approved replacing most of the scheduled sequester cuts for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, are now calling for cuts to mandatory programs. These programs, not subject to the annual appropriations process, like Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP/food stamps, Social Security and others, would be cut by at least $30 billion in FY17and more in subsequent years. They claim the cuts would offset the additional $30 billion in discretionary spending approved as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act Congress passed last fall.
But House GOP leaders haven’t yet agreed on the process of how to cut the programs. While Rep. Price early last week suggested the mandatory program cuts could be included as part of the annual appropriations process, appropriators from both sides of the aisle pushed back, with some saying it would violate House budget rules. The more likely option the GOP is now considering is to pass separate legislation to cut mandatory spending; according to CQ, the chairmen of several authorizing committees (the committees with control over mandatory spending) have been directed to work on putting together a package of cuts for the House to approve. Some of the most conservative members of the House, including some of those in the Republican Study Committee and the House Freedom Caucus, are threatening to vote against a budget unless it reneges on the Bipartisan Budget Act and cuts discretionary spending below the agreed-upon caps (in addition to requiring legislation that cuts mandatory spending).

In summary, passage of a budget resolution in the House is uncertain. If the House GOP can agree upon a plan, the House Budget Committee could meet and vote on it the week of March 14. House Democrats urged Rep. Price to use the current delay to hold a hearing on President Obama’s budget, which the Budget Committees in both chambers have so far refused to do.

Advocates will push back on cuts to mandatory programs, and not just because, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out, policymakers already paid for the $30 billion discretionary funding increase when they provided in in the Bipartisan Budget Act, so House conservatives shouldn’t be demanding that they pay for it twice. CBPP also noted that the offsets included in the bill passed last year do not include any measures to rein in wasteful or inefficient tax breaks. Instead, it extended for one more year (to 2025) sequestration cuts of certain mandatory programs, including a 2 percent cut of Medicare provider reimbursement rates. One of the more troubling offsets repealed an employer-related health reform requirement that will leave roughly 675,000 more people uninsured in most years after 2018.

Advocates will continue to push for additional spending for programs that assist low-income Americans. New research found that 85 percent of critical human needs programs tracked by CHN saw funding cuts from FY10 through FY16, while only 15 percent saw gains. Even without additional cuts proposed by House Republicans, the total for FY17 appropriations is about the same as this year, and increases required for certain programs will mean funding will again be very tight.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus will be holding a press conference on March 15 to address their budget proposal, which will be released in the coming days. Trying to set the standard for deepest cuts, the Heritage Foundation released a budget plan that would balance the budget in seven years, and which would make unprecedented cuts starting in the first year. It would slash a budget category that includes Medicaid, SNAP and select other mandatory programs by $340 billion in FY17 alone, cut Medicare by $152 billion in FY17, and eliminate Head Start over 10 years. It is likely that the House members who support $30 billion in FY 2017 cuts in mandatory programs will have a difficult time coming to agreement on precisely what those cuts should be. The Heritage Foundation’s whopping cuts would be most elected officials’ nightmare.

If House Republicans are able to coalesce around a plan, the various Congressional budget proposals could be voted on by the entire House the week of March 21. Spending bills for federal agencies for FY17 are expected to be introduced in April.

For many more details on the President’s budget, including sections on select departmental budget requests and tax policy, see our February 16 special edition Human Needs Report.

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