This contribution is part of our weekly This Week In Washington series
This is budget week in Washington. The Senate will consider the CR to fund government for the current fiscal year. The House will unveil its new budget for the next fiscal year. We will hear a lot of big numbers thrown around and talk about Medicare reform throughout the week. None of this makes a difference unless we are willing to force a fight over Obamacare on a CR or debt limit bill.
FY 2013 Budget Continuing Resolution – Last week, the House passed the Continuing Resolution (CR) (H.R. 933) for the remainder of the current fiscal year. Despite the fact that it continues to fund Obamacare, all but 16 Republicans voted for the bill. Additionally, the CR also contained other problematic provisions, such as a rider forcing the USPS to continue Saturday delivery and accounting gimmicks to shift $7 billion of the sequester cuts.
Beginning Monday, the battle moves to the Senate. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski is planning to tack on 3 full appropriations bills – Agriculture, Homeland Security and Commerce, and Justice and Science – to the CR. This would essentially push through many new Democrat policy positions, particularly as it relates to farming, in a bill that is supposed to maintain the status quo. This strategy is aimed at giving agencies more flexibility in spreading out the spending cuts and wiggling around the sequester. In other words, they want to ensure that not a single office is effected by the sequester.
Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz has taken up the defund Obamacare mantle started by reps. Jim Bridenstine (OK) and Tim Huelskamp (KS) in the House. He has introduced an amendment to the CR defunding Obamacare. Joined by Senators Lee and Rubio, Cruz is threatening to object to any consideration of the bill unless Harry Reid agrees to call for a vote on the amendment. Mitch McConnell said last week that he supports the defund effort, but he has not said whether he will coalesce a filibuster against the bill if and when it ultimately fails to defund Obamacare. In addition to promoting the amendment, senators must commit to blocking any unanimous consent agreements on the bill unless the amendment goes through.
FY 2014 Budget Resolution – Even as the final budget CR for FY 2013 is debated in the Senate, the House will introduce the concurrent budget resolution for FY 2014 (beginning October 1, 2013). Pursuant to the 1974 Budget Act, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan plans to introduce his concurrent budget resolution on Tuesday. Unlike the last budget which failed to balance until 2040, this one is going to balance in 10 years. Ryan said on Sunday that his budget will cut spending by about $5 trillion, lowering 10-year outlays from $46 trillion to $41 trillion. Meanwhile, the Senate Budget Committee will begin marking up its version of the budget resolution this week for the first time in 4 years.
Punchline: There is no doubt that the Ryan budget will be a solid proposal, almost as good as the annual Republican Study Committee budget. The RSC budget proposal will balance in 7 years and will undo the Obama/McConnell tax hikes, whereas the Ryan budget will not only keep the tax hikes, but use them to count towards balance. Nonetheless, both budgets will be great. But the real issue is whether Republicans plan to actually stand behind key elements of the budget, most importantly by defunding Obamacare. Unilaterally passing a budget out of the House without using the debt ceiling or the September CR to force adoption of the budget is worthless. That is what they have done for the past 2 years, and they have not demonstrated why this year will be different. Instead of getting all caught up in the details of a budget that holds no force of law, conservatives must force leadership to use the debt ceiling to defund Obamacare and push a balanced budget amendment.
SKILLS Act – On Thursday, the House will take up the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act [H.R. 803], which would combine 35 job training programs into one program. While this is certainly a worthy start, it represents another pale pastel alternative from the GOP. We spend a whopping $18 billion on job training programs that have not worked and are not within the purview of the federal government. While this bill will make the job training program run more efficiently, it will not significantly downsize government or cut spending. We need to work towards complete elimination of these “feel good” programs that are wasteful and unconstitutional.
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