The Senate passed a budget this weekend (barely, by a 50 to 49 vote) for the first time in more than three years. However, it is highly unlikely that the House and Senate will be able to reconcile their budgets. It is not simply a matter of splitting the difference between, say, spending increases on defense. The Senate insists upon a huge tax hike; the House rejects that idea and provides for revenue-neutral tax reform. The House includes Medicaid and Medicare reform; the Senate refuses to entertain entitlement reform.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) calls the Democrats’ budget “a rehash of the extreme policies that continue to hobble the economy and crush the middle class,” adding, “The only good news is that the fiscal path the Democrats laid out in their Budget Resolution won’t become law.”
The two budget chairmen, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), will no doubt confer, but it is unclear whether a conference committee is even feasible. Then what?
One possibility would be yet another continuing resolution to keep the government running. This leaves the Pentagon short-changed, with the trajectory of sequestration in place, and it kicks the can on entitlement reform once again. From the GOP perspective, however, this effectively stops the president’s building of a welfare state.
The Post relates that the White House is already out bemoaning that, in that case, the economy can’t be expected to grow. While the president, as The Post reports, “now finds himself enacting a broad domestic policy that he doesn’t support and that he believes will harm the country,” Republicans are bemoaning the lost opportunity to fix entitlements. However, keeping the Obama welfare state from expanding would be an unexpected achievement for a party that holds a majority in only one house of Congress.
Another alternative would be some smaller agreement, with a limited reshuffling of priorities — for example, to allow more national-security spending. But once again a stand-off is likely between two sets of competing priorities.
At some point the two sides will be compelled to move on to other business — immigration reform, gun legislation and energy, to name a few. The House, however, is handicapped by the absence of specific, complete plans on tax reform and health-care reform that Republicans can offer as reasonable alternatives, especially as the perils of Obamacare unfold.
The House should put a premium on coming to consensus on these items. On tax reform, the Ways and Means Committee’s fruitless effort to gather buy-in from every group imaginable has gone on too long and leaves Republicans badly exposed to Democrats’ claims that they are plotting to shift the tax burden to the middle class. The absence of a health-care plan for those not elderly or poor puts the GOP at a handicap in critiquing Obamacare. Where is its alternative?
In sum, as the likelihood of a budget deal grows slimmer, the House should get going on the rest of its agenda and demonstrate the viable conservative alternative to Obama’s over-stuffed liberal welfare state.