House Republicans struggle to form consensus on 2017 budget

Hearings on the House of Representatives’ FY 2017 budget proposal have been post-posed until March, as Budget Committee chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is being pressed by three influential groups within his own party on what and how much should be cut from federal expenditures.

Dr. Price, a retired orthopedic surgeon from suburban Atlanta, aimed to unveil the federal spending blueprint later this week, but numerous meetings with House Speaker Paul Ryan and members of the House Freedom Caucus have not yielded a final agreement.

Adding to the complication is a newly released budget proposal by The Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

While the House Freedom Caucus is calling for $30 billion in cuts to Speaker Ryan’s $1.07 trillion proposed FY 2017 outlays, Heritage seeks an $80 billion reduction.

It is not only the $30-$80 billion difference that is at issue either.

While House conservatives seek “mandatory” and “entitlement” cuts, Heritage’s “Blueprint for Balance” argues that in order for the budget deficit to be balanced within 10 years, federal discretionary spending must be curtailed, which includes cuts to the following: disaster emergency aid; education, science, and energy research subsidies; domestic violence programs; Amtrak funding; Medicaid funding.

Heritage’s proposal also calls to phase-out the Head Start program by 2026 and restructure the Social Security with the goal of ultimately limiting benefits to those on the verge of falling below the poverty-line.

Overall, the proposal seeks to reduce spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years, while cutting taxes by $1.3 trillion over the same period of time. The think tank estimates its outline would balance the budget within seven years.

The Foundation’s proposal is ambitious, but not impossible with a Republican president in office. After all, defense spending would be increased in a Heritage federal budget.

However, two obvious obstacles will block most of what the conservative elites are asking for, at least in the 2017 budget: Democrats control the executive branch, and the terms of every member in House of Representatives expire in January, meaning Congress won’t touch Social Security or Medicaid spending.

At the same time, the director of Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation points out that President Obama will not likely sign a budget proposal — supported by many House Republicans — which cuts entitlement spending either.

All the in-fighting among conservatives, both on Capitol Hill and on K Street, presents an opportunity for Congressional Democrats to capitalize politically.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in a statement Monday that the postponement of a budget outline by Rep. Price “is yet another indication that the extreme Tea Party is in control of the Republican majority.”

While the final proposal is set to be unveiled in March, a Budget Committee aide told Politico that the actual appropriations process, when specific budget items can actually be voted on by House members, won’t begin until April.


[Politico] [CNN] [Photo courtesy AP/J. Scott Applewhite]