Budget Debate Takes Over Both Chambers

March 25, 2015

capitol-building-bush-tax-cuts.gi.topThis week both the House and Senate are considering fiscal year 2016 budget resolution proposals, offered respectively by House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). The expectation is if both of these blueprints clear their respective chambers this week, then upon return from the Easter recess, a conference committee will meet to reach a compromise agreement. The goal is that this timeline will enable passage through each chamber by April 15—a nonbinding deadline spelled out in the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974.

Both plans – which passed on out of their committees along party-line votes – call for putting balancing the budget within the next decade through major reductions in federal spending, and for comprehensive tax reform that neither raises nor lowers taxes relative to the budgets’ revenue baselines.

The House budget (H.Con.Res. 27) would cut spending by almost $5.5 trillion in order to achieve a surplus by fiscal year 2024, while the Senate budget would reach balance one year later through spending cuts totaling $5.1 trillion. The Senate budget resolution (S.Con.Res. 11) would balance the budget over 10 years, achieving a $16 billion surplus in 2025 by limiting spending growth to an average of 3.2 percent. The resolution contains $4.4 trillion more in deficit reduction than the president’s budget request.

Both the House and Senate budgets include general language encouraging Congress to undertake revenue-neutral tax reform. The House budget provides additional policy detail – including a call to lower individual and corporate rates, transition to a more competitive international tax system, repeal the alternative minimum tax, and close special interest loopholes. Meanwhile, the Senate budget calls for amending the Internal Revenue Code to extend certain expiring tax relief provisions for innovation and high quality manufacturing jobs, as well as repealing the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device manufacturers.

Both budgets also call for repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and related provisions of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, including the revenue increases enacted in those laws.

On defense spending, Sen. Enzi’s plan would maintain spending levels set by the Budget Control Act of 2011, starting at $523 billion in 2016 and rising to $549 billion in 2018. The idea is to create a separate “reserve fund,” forcing Congress to later reach a deal to increase spending on defense. That differs sharply from the House plan which calls for an increase in defense spending to $574 billion in 2017 and $599 billion in 2018.

Today, the House will vote on six budgets—three of which were introduced by Republicans, as well as alternative budgets from the Democratic leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus. Meanwhile, the main budget action in the Senate will begin on Thursday with the so-called vote-a-rama, where Senators will vote for hours on amendments on an array of politically charged issues.