Director’s Desk: March 6, 2014

Kenneth Gold | March 6, 2014

On Tuesday the FY15 congressional budget process officially began with President Obama submitting his FY15 budget request to Congress.  The discretionary portion of the president’s $3.9 trillion request stays within the caps agreed to in last year’s omnibus appropriations bill, but also contains a $56 billion supplemental “wish list” of additional spending to be divided equally between defense and non-defense programs.  As expected, the president’s initiative was quickly denounced by Republicans on Capitol Hill.  Less expected was its equally quick dismissal by Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski, who has advocated higher spending limits, but stated that she fully intends to stay within the spending caps agreed to in December.

Last week as expected, Senate Democratic Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray confirmed that her committee won’t be undertaking an FY15 Senate budget resolution, given the fact that the discretionary spending levels (302 (a) allocations) are already set by last year’s Ryan-Murray agreement.  Bringing a budget resolution to the floor would allow Republicans to propose amendments and force votes on a host of issues Democrats prefer to avoid in an election year.

The most interesting remaining issue is whether House Republican Budget Chair Paul Ryan undertakes a House Budget resolution.  Should he proceed with one, two major questions loom.  First is the question of whether his proposal would adhere to the discretionary caps agreed to in Ryan-Murray, or seek further reductions.  It’s widely expected that he would, but doing so makes the math in achieving a balanced budget in ten years extraordinarily difficult.  The only realistic way that could be achieved would be through major reductions in mandatory spending, which means Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security, something that even most Republicans would prefer not to vote on in an election year.

Second is the question of whether Republicans could pass a budget resolution that adheres to the Ryan-Murray caps.  In December, 62 Republicans voted against Ryan-Murray, so assuming a similar number would oppose a budget resolution at that spending level, he would need approximately 50 Democrats to vote with Republicans, a highly unlikely prospect.  Even if Ryan chose to abandon Ryan-Murray and advance a budget resolution at lower discretionary levels, it’s highly unlikely that could pass either.  My bet is that Ryan will write a House budget resolution that adheres to the Ryan-Murray caps, and balances the budget in ten years, but that it’s never brought to the floor for a vote.

Ken Gold is director of the Government Affairs Institute

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Categories: Director's Desk, Updates