House panel adopts budget, but GOP divisions still remain
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WASHINGTON — The GOP-led House Budget Committee Thursday gave party-line approval to a sweeping balanced budget plan, but the measure faces a rewrite next week to overcome opposition from the party’s defense hawks.
The 22-13 vote advances the measure for a House floor debate next week.
The measure adds $36 billion to President Barack Obama’s request for overseas war funds in an effort to get around tight limits on the Pentagon budget. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the measure would be amended on the floor to lift restrictions that panel deficit hawks have placed on accessing the additional funding.
Boehner told reporters that he was confident the House would pass the measure next week despite anger among tough-on-spending conservatives such as Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who want much of the additional Pentagon money to be paired with budget cuts.
The panel vote came after Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., abruptly adjourned the committee Wednesday night after panel conservatives insisted that more than $20 billion of the additional Pentagon spending be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the $3.8 trillion budget.
Across the Capitol, the Senate Budget Committee kicked off debate on its companion measure, which contains slightly milder cuts to programs like Medicaid than the House plan.
Both plans rely on deep but often unspecified cuts to the social safety net that advocates for the poor say could force millions of people off programs like Medicaid and food stamps.
“What they are proposing is to cut programs for some of the most vulnerable people in this country — the elderly, children, sick low-income people” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “At the same time they want to give significant tax breaks to the wealthy and the large corporations.”
Republicans counter that balancing the budget is a moral imperative and that controlling Washington’s spiraling spending will strengthen the economy and preserve retirement programs like Medicare for decades.
“We know that a balanced budget will mean more opportunity and a healthier economy for hard-working American families,” Price said.
In the Senate, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was hoping to rewrite the budget to add war funding in hopes of matching Obama’s request for a $38 billion Pentagon increase. The original GOP plan, written by new Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and released Wednesday afternoon, stuck to Obama’s war funding request and immediately came under attack.
The cuts aren’t going anywhere so long as Obama occupies the Oval Office. And Republicans aren’t showing much interest in advancing them beyond the hypothetical confines of Congress’ arcane budget process, which involves first passing a nonbinding budget measure and then following up with binding legislation to implement it.
Senate Republicans, already eyeing the 2016 elections, balked at a politically sensitive House plan to turn health care coverage for seniors into a voucher-like program for those who enroll beginning in 2024.
But most of the focus behind the scenes was on efforts by defense hawks to add to the Pentagon’s budget, whose core would essentially be frozen for the third year in a row in the fiscal year beginning in October unless lawmakers intervene.
Procedural obstacles prevent Republicans from simply increasing the budget for defense as Obama recommended in his budget, financed by tax increases and spending cuts elsewhere. The GOP solution is to pad war accounts that aren’t bound by tight budget limits set by the return of automatic cuts known as sequestration.
The House plan, which had stalled because of the fight between defense hawks and tea party forces, would add $36 billion to Obama’s $58 billion request for overseas military and diplomatic efforts in the war against terror.
“The Senate budget as introduced fails to prioritize our national defense after years of damaging cuts to our nation’s military,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential presidential candidate.
But the House panel is loaded with fiscal hard-liners who rejected the leadership’s bid to increase the war funding by another $2 billion — to $38 billion — and remove limits on accessing the funds.
“Our responsibility, as a defense hawk myself, is to fund the military but also to pay for it by offsets,” said Budget panel member Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind. “We can find a way to pay for $20 billion.”
Boehner, however, negotiated an agreement with Price and Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, to insert the $38 billion — which matches increases sought by Obama for core Pentagon operations — when the budget comes to the floor next week.
“We’ve walked everybody through it and we think we’re in a good place,” Boehner said.
Successful action on the budget would pave the way for a veto confrontation over Obama’s signature health care law, since a filibuster-proof measure to repeal much of it could make its way through the Senate.
ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press