Senate and House Budget Caps: Parity Between Defense and Non-defense Spending?
After conducting a whip count last week, Budget Chairwoman Black stated the House budget resolution won’t get a vote on the floor this week. With the House on recess next week, September 25 is the earliest the blueprint could be considered.
Some Republicans have withheld support for a budget resolution until they learn more details on tax-overhaul legislation, which Republicans hope to pass through budget reconciliation, requiring only a majority in the Senate.
It is estimated last week that “at least 50” members are asking for more details on tax overhaul before they say they’ll support the budget resolution. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said last week there is a push for the Senate Budget Committee to mark up a budget resolution by September 30.
Lawmakers are staking out positions on whether to raise the Budget Control Act’s (BCA) caps on federal discretionary spending as this week they debate greatly increasing funds for national security programs.
The $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act, calling for large increases for the Pentagon, would require lifting the BCA’s cap for defense programs in FY 18, and members of both parties said they support increased military spending.
However, Democrats said they also plan to press during debate on the bill for an increase in the act’s nondefense cap to keep “parity” and provide more money for domestic programs. The Senate began debating the bill yesterday.
Democrats want the BCA cap for defense increased because current funding is inadequate to address rising international tensions, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin has said. But he also said the amendment Democrats are preparing to offer to similarly increase domestic spending probably won’t get Republican support. As a result, he said a resolution on funding for both sides of the budget still could be far off.
“I expect that amendment to be offered and have the same result as it’s had so far,” Durbin said, referring to similar proposals that were rejected in committee.
Lawmakers last week bought themselves more time to negotiate a new bipartisan budget deal when they passed a new continuing resolution covering government funding into early December.
There has been little effort to start talks aimed at providing relief from the BCA caps since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last summer they would be needed to get better numbers for appropriators to use in writing the 2018 bills, Durbin and other lawmakers said.
Congress’s action to simply extend current government funding and the federal debt limit until December 8 reflected the reality that McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan can’t pass major spending plans without Democratic input and support, Durbin said.
Durbin added that President Donald Trump essentially saw this when he sided with Democrats’ bid for a short-term CR and rejected Republican leaders’ efforts to extend the debt limit.
The NDAA greatly exceeds the BCA caps but still can advance as it is an authorization measure and doesn’t appropriate federal money. In contrast, the four-bill “minibus” (H.R. 3219) including the defense appropriations bill that was passed by the House and recently sent to the Senate would face an immediate budget challenge as it appropriates funds at levels not allowed by the act. The latter provides $658.1 billion for defense programs – $584.2 billion in monies under the cap and $73.9 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) monies.
Durbin joined Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy this summer in backing an amendment in committee to increase the defense and non-defense spending caps by $54 billion. The amendment was offered when the committee considered the allocations of funds for the 12 annual bills. However, that amendment fell on a party-line vote. Durbin suggested it is likely to fail if offered on the floor.
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