House Democrats are likely to punt on writing a budget this year, amid divisions between liberals seeking more money for domestic programs and moderates who fear getting accused of raising taxes.
Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said Tuesday he would make a final decision later in the week. But he said that after meeting with various groups of House Democrats, “I’m not particularly hopeful.”
The divisions, which include disagreements about spending levels for the Pentagon, make it unlikely a budget resolution would pass on the House floor. Such a failure would be an embarrassment for the new majority and one Democratic leaders would rather avoid — especially because a budget resolution is a largely symbolic document that serves mostly to lay out a party’s priorities.
“Defense is a thorny area for some of our more liberal members, and on the other side, generating revenue is a problem for some of our more moderate members who don’t want to vote for a tax increase,” Yarmuth said.
Although Yarmuth did not expect that any potential Democratic budget resolution would lay out specific tax hikes, he had planned to call for significant new revenue — which Republicans could seize on as requiring new taxes.
“That certainly would be the way that a vote for that would be portrayed by their opponents,” Yarmuth said.
The potential for House budget resolutions to turn into political fodder for the opposition has been clear in the past. When then-Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) chaired the Budget Committee, he wrote a budget that slashed entitlement spending — something that became a major line of attack for Democrats when Ryan was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012.
Rep. Steve Womack (Ark.), top Republican on the Budget Committee, criticized the Democrats. “The Budget Committee has a responsibility to lead federal spending decisions in Congress. It’s no easy task — I know from experience — but it should not deter us from making tough decisions and fulfilling our duty to the American people. With $22 trillion of debt and deficits nearing $1 trillion, bypassing this part of the budget process is irresponsible,” Womack said.
Womack released a budget resolution and passed it through the Budget Committee when he chaired the panel last year, but it was never brought to the House floor for a vote. The Senate also is unlikely to pass a spending proposal this year, though Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has released a five-year plan that his committee is considering this week.
Budget resolutions also serve to set top-line numbers to govern spending levels in appropriations bills that dole out federal agency budgets. But those numbers can be set through other procedural mechanisms.
This year, there will have to be bipartisan agreement on new top-line spending levels to avoid the imposition of stringent caps that would greatly reduce domestic and military budgets to levels most lawmakers find unacceptable.
The Trump administration, however, supports imposition of the budget caps — making it uncertain how a deal will be reached.
Also, existing federal spending expires at the end of September, when another government shutdown will loom if no budget deal is reached.