No Matter Who Wins the GOP Budget Fight, Po Folks Lose

It all looks like rare good fun in the dour world of congressional budgeting: a straight up vote between two Republican blueprints. Here’s Jake Sherman’s explanation for Politico:

This is winner-takes-all politics.

As House Republicans try to pass a 2016 budget blueprint, GOP leadership is relying on an obscure legislative procedure to try to break the impasse between staunch fiscal conservatives and defense hawks.

The move is called called “Queen of the Hill,” and it’s hardly ever used on Capitol Hill. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) will allow one vote on Rep. Tom Price’s (R-Ga.) Budget Committee’s spending plan, which infuriated defense-minded lawmakers who thought it underfunded the Pentagon.

They’ll also allow a vote on a nearly identical budget, which includes language to increase defense spending. Whichever plan gets the most votes will become the House GOP’s budget.

Sherman goes on to report that House leaders are hoping the defense hawk version wins, which will minimize differences with the Senate.

Now this whole exercise is largely academic, since budget resolutions are only really binding if “reconciliation” instructions are issued and a reconciliation bill is assembled, and any such bill will head towards the White House as obvious veto bait (though it is apparently the bright vision of passing such a bill with an Obamacare repeal that is expected to keep House fiscal hawks in line if their version of the budget is rejected). But as Sherman notes, the “optics” of being able to agree on a budget resolution matter:

The fallout from failing to pass a budget cannot be overstated. It would show a fresh inability to govern, and would call into further doubt the party’s ability to pass complex legislation for the rest of the year. And the pressure is squarely on Boehner, McCarthy and Scalise: budgets pass strictly on party lines. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi won’t bail them out this time.

But to the extent that budget resolutions are pretty good indications of a party’s priorities, it is rather important to note what the two House budgets have in common, not just where they differ, and Greg Sargent draws attention to that issue this morning:

[A] forthcoming report from the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center will argue that the spending cuts that are detailed in the GOP blueprints — such as the repeal of Obamacare (while keeping its savings) and the block-granting of Medicaid to states — would “take affordable health coverage away from millions of Americans.” And it will argue that, to get to its goal of balance within 10 years with no new revenues, the House and Senate GOP fiscal blueprints go to extraordinary lengths to conceal the real impact of the spending cuts that would be required to accomplish that goal.

Greg goes on to cite a report already out from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that estimates more than two-thirds of the budget cuts in either GOP budget will ultimately fall on programs benefiting low-income Americans, some articulated, but still more “assumed” via a magic asterisk.

That’s especially interesting because of all the talk in GOP circles the last couple of years about anti-poverty strategies and income inequality: when it gets down to the lick log of budget numbers, congressional Republicans are almost exactly where they were with the infamous Ryan Budgets, which also concentrated most savings on low-income programs. One of the big sources of savings in the current budgets is to let the recently expanded EITC and child tax credits expire. These credits are the building blocks of virtually all the Reformicon tax proposals. Doesn’t matter; gotta hit those defense and deficit targets, and fund those tax cuts.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.