Why the House May Skip a Budget

Speaker Paul Ryan wants to pass a spending blueprint, but appropriators are ready to just “deem” a funding number if needed.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Daniel Newhauser
Add to Briefcase
Daniel Newhauser
Feb. 11, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

As House GOP lead­ers try to calm a rank-and-file budget re­bel­lion, Re­pub­lic­an ap­pro­pri­at­ors are ready to move ahead with their spend­ing bills—re­gard­less of wheth­er the House can pass a spend­ing blue­print.

Speak­er Paul Ry­an will try to smooth over his mem­bers’ budget angst at a private meet­ing Fri­day morn­ing. He has been work­ing to push a $1.070 tril­lion budget, as agreed to in an Oc­to­ber deal struck by both cham­bers of Con­gress and the White House.

Yet Ry­an is get­ting push­back from mem­bers who want to cut gov­ern­ment cof­fers lower. If the con­fer­ence can­not agree how to move ahead, House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers said he would like the cham­ber to em­ploy a rare and polit­ic­ally di­vis­ive pro­ced­ure: Deem a budget.

“I’m just anxious to get go­ing on mark­ing up these bills be­cause the year is so short,” he said. “The budget agree­ment of last year gives us that top num­ber and un­til I’m told oth­er­wise by an act of the House or whatever, that’s the num­ber that we have to mark up to.”

Deem­ing is a pro­ced­ure by which the House would write lan­guage in an­oth­er bill stat­ing that the budget is passed, without ac­tu­ally vot­ing on a stand-alone budget. So far, it ap­pears Ro­gers’s com­mit­tee mem­bers are back­ing him. Rep. Robert Ad­er­holt, chair­man of the ag­ri­cul­ture sub­com­mit­tee, said do­ing so is pos­sible, but would make it harder to agree with the Sen­ate about how much money each sub­com­mit­tee is al­loc­ated.

“We’d have to deem a budget,” Rep. Robert Ad­er­holt said. “But we have to pro­ceed on with ap­pro­pri­ations. It would cer­tainly be more dif­fi­cult to do and there would be a lot more un­cer­tainty in the pro­cess.”

Even among the House Free­dom Caucus, a chief in­stig­at­or in the budget dis­agree­ment, the idea of deem­ing a budget is be­come more real. Rep. Andy Har­ris, an ap­pro­pri­at­or and a mem­ber of the caucus, down­played the need for a spend­ing blue­print at all.

“We’d prefer a budget, but Con­gress works fine with or without it,” Har­ris said. “The Amer­ic­an people think of our ap­pro­pri­ations bills as budgets, so the only ques­tion is wheth­er we bring ap­pro­pri­ations bills to the floor un­der an open rule.”

Sim­il­arly, Rep. Tim Huel­skamp said his main con­cern is the spend­ing bills. He singled out the bill gov­ern­ing Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, where an­ti­abor­tion policy could be put in­to law. The bill is rarely taken up on its own be­cause Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats rarely agree about such policies.

“Giv­ing us a chance for once in six years to de­bate that, I think we can pass that at a lower level,” Huel­skamp said. “If you have to deem it to do that, maybe they will, but so far we’re a long ways from the end goal.”

In­deed, Ry­an told re­port­ers Thursday that the pro­cess has only just be­gun. He said he hopes his mem­bers can come to an agree­ment about how to move ahead, but that something must be passed be­fore the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess can start.

“Do I want the ap­pro­pri­ations com­mit­tee to pro­ceed? Yes. But in or­der for them to pro­ceed, we have to pass a bill au­thor­iz­ing their abil­ity to pro­ceed at that ap­pro­pri­ated num­ber,” he said. “The budget is typ­ic­ally where you pass that num­ber.”

Still, Ry­an has cause to be cau­tious. When House Re­pub­lic­ans were in the minor­ity, they de­rided Demo­crats’ at­tempt to deem a budget as “de­mon pass” or “scheme and deem.” Ry­an him­self, then rank­ing Re­pub­lic­an on the Budget Com­mit­tee, called it an “un­pre­ced­en­ted budget col­lapse.” House Re­pub­lic­ans have passed a budget every year since tak­ing power in 2012, and for Ry­an to fail to do so would be an em­bar­rass­ment.

Rep. Steve Womack, an ap­pro­pri­at­or, said that par­tic­u­larly in a pres­id­en­tial elec­tion year, the man­euver and the dis­agree­ments in the party that could lead up to it would re­flect badly on Re­pub­lic­ans.

“I don’t think it’s wise, and as much as we like to rail against the pres­id­ent for what he sent us, it’s in my opin­ion a bit hy­po­crit­ic­al for us not even to meet one of our most ba­sic ob­lig­a­tions,” he said.

Still, head­ing in­to Fri­day’s con­fer­ence meet­ing, mem­bers op­posed to the Oc­to­ber budget were dug in. Rep. Dave Brat, a mem­ber of the free­dom caucus and the Budget Com­mit­tee, was in dis­be­lief Wed­nes­day when told that Ry­an wants to stick to the Oc­to­ber num­ber.

“That’s in dis­pute,” Brat said. “The pro­cess was de­scribed by lead­er­ship as a crap sand­wich and clean­ing the barn to get to that num­ber, so I don’t think any­one thinks it’s a good num­ber.”

In the Sen­ate, ap­pro­pri­at­ors are fo­cused on one of Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s top pri­or­it­ies: fund­ing the gov­ern­ment through “reg­u­lar or­der,” or 12 spend­ing bills, rather than through a massive om­ni­bus pack­age—a chal­lenge not met since 1994.

Yet some key mem­bers seem skep­tic­al. “Twelve bills is a lift,” ac­know­ledged Sen. Roy Blunt, an ap­pro­pri­at­or and mem­ber of the Sen­ate GOP lead­er­ship. “I cer­tainly would like to see us get more than half the bills done. Last year was the first time in six years we got all the bills out of com­mit­tee—and fairly early— so hope­fully we can get closer to our 12-bill goal this year.”

And when asked about the budget pro­cess, Sen. Chris­toph­er Coons didn’t emit any words, re­sort­ing to a “woo” as if he was tast­ing something spicy for the first time. “I don’t know how you would sum­mar­ize that com­ment on the re­cord,” he ad­ded.

Alex Rogers contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
Manafort Case Moves to Closing Arguments
4 days ago
Manafort Defense Rests
5 days ago
Judge Holds Witness in Contempt in Manafort Case
1 weeks ago

"A federal judge has found a witness in contempt for refusing to testify before the grand jury hearing evidence in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell made the ruling Friday after a sealed hearing to discuss Andrew Miller’s refusal to appear before the grand jury. Miller is a former aide to longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone."

Gates Says He Committed Crimes with Manafort
1 weeks ago

Paul Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates said in court today that "he conspired with Manafort to falsify Manafort’s tax returns. Gates said he and Manafort knowingly failed to report foreign bank accounts and had failed to register Manafort as a foreign agent."

Gates to Be Called Next in Manafort Case
1 weeks ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.