Congress starts work on slashing trillions from budget

Republicans envision repealing Obamacare

BY KEVIN G. HALL AND WILLIAM DOUGLAS
MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU/TNS

WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators began narrowing differences Monday on competing budget resolutions, and although Republicans now control both chambers, experts see little likelihood of starting the next fiscal year with a funded federal government.

The budget resolution being negotiated by members of the Senate and the House of Representatives authorizes appropriations committees to spend an allotted amount in fiscal 2016. This will be a victory for the GOP, which now controls both chambers of Congress, marking the first time in years that a spending blueprint will be agreed upon.

It’s likely to be a victory short lived.

Budget resolutions are blueprints. As such they aren’t subject to presidential vetoes. Spending bills are, and they must pass Congress and be signed by the president. Since both Republican budget plans are wildly different from President Barack Obama’s own proposed spending priorities, gridlock is all but certain in the months ahead.

Deep divisions
Here’s the starting point for budget talks: The two GOP budget resolutions envision deep spending cuts above $5 trillion over 10 years to get to a balanced budget. The president’s budget proposal doesn’t balance, boosts spending on education and infrastructure, and is paid for with a $320 billion tax hike on the rich that will never get past a Republican Congress.

Similarly, GOP plans envision repealing the Affordable Care Act, something the president is sure to veto.

“How disappointing it is to see the budget resolution and process itself has become almost like a presidential budget — it’s just a messaging document?” lamented Steve Bell, a former Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee.

There’s another wrinkle. Republicans have deep divisions. Deficit hawks want to slash spending, while defense hawks want more military spending. And there’s a bevy of Republicans lining up to run for president next year, adding political calculations into the mix.

‘A pious hope’
Republicans also must negotiate with Democrats, who are eager to give them a taste of their own medicine doled out when the GOP was in the minority and stifled the budget process.

It’s why some budget veterans such as Bell, now director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, are downbeat about the prospects for actual government funding being in place when the next fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

“Sure they have a balanced budget on a piece of paper … everyone who understands how budgets work knows that this is nothing but a pious hope,” said Bell, stressing that proposed deep spending cuts can’t hold. “There is no way the Republican Congress will implement a budget that … balances in 10 years.”

Some optimism
Between now and Sept. 30, expect a lot of politics over funding of the government, warned Robert Bixby, head of the bipartisan watchdog group Concord Coalition.

“They’ll pass a budget resolution — which would be an accomplishment in and of itself — but with an acknowledgment that it might not be feasible to pass the appropriations bills at those levels, that they might be too low,” he said. “You might find the president vetoing appropriations bills and we wind up with another continuing resolution” to fund the federal government after Oct. 1.

Others are more optimistic.

“The budget process seems more on track than we’ve seen in quite some time,” said Maya MacGuineas, who heads the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates balanced budgets. “Outside the budget process, there will be some things that will have to be addressed.”

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