In what appears to be an extraordinary snub of White House budget director Shaun Donovan, the Republican chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees announced on Thursday they would not host Donovan’s testimony on President Obama’s final budget submission next week.
Obama will unveil his fiscal 2017 budget request next Tuesday, just barely meeting the statutory deadline for submitting a new budget to Congress. But Senate Budget Committee Chair Mike Enzi (R-WY) and House Budget Committee chief Tom Price (R-GA) issued a joint statement tonight saying Donovan wasn’t welcome to testify because the administration wasn’t serious about addressing the mounting national debt – which reached an historic $19 trillion this week.
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“It appears the President’s final budget will continue to focus on new spending proposals instead of confronting our government’s massive overspending and debt,” Enzi said. “It is clear that this President will not put forth the budget effort that our times and our country require.”
Enzi said that instead of hearing from an administration “unconcerned with our $19 trillion in debt,” Congress should reform a broken budget process and restore public trust in the process.
Price argued that “Nothing in the president’s prior budgets – none of which have ever balanced – has shown that the Obama Administration has any real interest in actually solving our fiscal challenges or saving critical programs like Medicare and Social Security from insolvency.”
Shannon Buckingham, associate director for communications at OMB, said tonight "We are disappointed that the Republican leadership of the House and Senate Budget Committee has decided to forgo the longstanding tradition of inviting the Director . . . to testify on the President's budget."
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"We continue to look forward to the release on Tuesday of the President's FY17 Budget which invests in our domestic and national priorities and addresses our greatest challenges, not just this year but for decades to come," Buckingham said.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said tonight, "This appalling decision to reject longstanding bipartisan tradition is the latest evidence that the Tea Party controls this Congress."
He added that while Obama may refuse to follow the conservatives call for cutting Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety net programs, "he still deserves to be heard."
It is highly rare – if not unprecedented in modern times – for the chairs of the two budget committees to deny the president’s chief budget officer an opportunity to present his new spending priorities to Congress.
Obama in his State of the Union address voiced hope that the administration and Congress could reach agreement on at least a few important measures in the Obama’s final year in office – including criminal justice reform, increased spending on mental health programs and a boost in funding for cancer research.
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However, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been generally hostile or negative to the administration’s entreaties. The president’s final fiscal 2017 budget is almost certain to follow the discretionary spending limits on defense and domestic programs included in last fall’s bipartisan budget deal – although Obama has signaled he will add a handful of new requests.
The Congressional Budget Office warned last week that fiscal 2016 would be the first year in which the federal deficit has risen as a share of the economy as a whole since 2009 – largely because Congress last December renewed a handful of costly tax breaks and made them permanent.
If Congress and the White House remain on the current spending trajectory without addressing rising entitlement costs, the deficit will increase sharply after 2018, spiking from 2.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product to 4.9 percent by 2026, according to the CBO.
CBO Director Keith Hall testified before the House Budget Committee Thursday, saying, “If current laws generally remained unchanged, the deficit would continue to grow, and debt held by the public would rise to $24 trillion -- or 86 percent of GDP by 2026, up from 74 percent of GDP at the end of 2015.”
“Moreover, it would be on an upward trajectory: 30 years from now, debt would reach 155 percent of GDP, a higher percentage than any previously recorded in the United States,” Hall added. “Such high and rising debt could have serious negative consequences for the budget and the nation, including an increased risk of a fiscal crisis.”