Republicans Can’t Agree on a Budget – and It’s Hurting Their Agenda
Policy + Politics

Republicans Can’t Agree on a Budget – and It’s Hurting Their Agenda

iStockphoto/Library of Congress/The Fiscal Times

For the second week in a row, members of Congress have been hammering President Trump’s proposed budget for the coming year – and much of the criticism is coming from Trump’s own party.

Congressional Republicans can’t agree on spending priorities – a budgetary impasse that could threaten the GOP’s agenda of trillions of dollars in tax cuts, a major military buildup, and savings in Medicaid, Social Security disability insurance and other entitlements.

Related: Gen. Mattis Gets Hammered on Military Performance Problems that He Vows to Fix

But there is near GOP unanimity on one point: Trump’s first full budget blueprint submitted last month is wildly unrealistic and has no chance of being approved.

While seeking major increases in spending on defense, veterans’ affairs, homeland security, construction of a wall along the border with Mexico, and cuts in personal and corporate income taxes, Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget would cut $4.3 trillion of domestic discretionary and mandatory spending through 2027 to bring down the deficit. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the latest target of congressional GOP wrath on Tuesday when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) declared that the president’s call for a 30 percent reduction in spending on State Department diplomatic activities and foreign aid was totally unrealistic.

Corker told Tillerson, after about five minutes of reviewing the State Department budget, “This is a total waste of time.  I don’t want to do this anymore.” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seconded Corker’s comments at a separate hearing: “I think this budget request is radical and reckless.”

Related: More Money for Defense? Why Congress Needs to Look Twice at the Military Budget

It was much the same last week when Republican lawmakers skewered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson for a budget proposal aimed at bolstering Pentagon spending next year by $54 billion largely at the expense of domestic programs and departments.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and other Republican House appropriators denounced Trump’s proposals for deep cuts in the National Park Service and Native American education programs as well as the elimination of funding for a pilot program to reclaim abandoned mines in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Rogers told Zinke during a subcommittee hearing that he was “flabbergasted” at the size of the cuts and couldn’t imagine them coming from an administration “that I had been led to believe was wanting to help coal country.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and education, was equally direct with DeVos in reviewing the administration’s proposed education budget said, “I think it’s likely the kinds of cuts proposed in this budget will not occur, so we really need to fully understand your priorities and why they are your priorities.”

Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ) has repeatedly complained that Trump’s proposed $54 billion boost in defense spending is woefully inadequate to rebuild the nation’s military. He insists that Trump’s proposal amounts to a mere three percent increase over former President Obama’s plan, “which has left our military underfunded, undersized and unready to meet the threats of today and tomorrow.”

Related: Senate Republicans Are Getting Closer to Rolling Back Medicaid Expansion

The House in early May barely passed highly controversial Obamacare replacement legislation that President Trump on Tuesday described as “mean” during a meeting at the White House with GOP congressional leaders. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, remain divided over their own version of the legislation, with no certainty they can meet a goal of passing legislation before a long August recess.

Because the Republican-controlled Congress is using special “reconciliation” rules under a fiscal 2017 budget resolution to try to expedite passage of health care reform and prevent a Democratic filibuster, lawmakers must somehow enact a final measure before they can take up a new budget resolution for the coming fiscal 2018.

By now, the Senate and Budget Committees would be well along in preparing a new budget resolution for the coming year to set total discretionary spending levels for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to use to allocate among the 12 annual appropriations bills. Without those top-line spending numbers, the appropriators will be hamstrung to meet a September 30 deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

Related: How the GOP Health Care Disaster Is Opening the Door to Medicaid for All

However, Congress is in the throes of a budgetary traffic jam – with next year’s spending decisions beginning to bump up against unresolved budgetary action on health care reform. Until the White House and Republican leaders finally, clear the decks on health care reform – either by enacting a bill or giving up – next year’s budget resolution must be kept on hold.

Trump and GOP leaders have much riding on next year’s budget resolution. That’s because they intend to use it as the vehicle for ramming through a major tax cut over Democratic objections by invoking the budget reconciliation rules. However, GOP members appear divided over how best to proceed with a budget resolution, and whether it should include hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts in entitlements as well as major tax cuts.