- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2016

The Senate will postpone any action on the coming year’s budget, a GOP chairman said Monday in the clearest sign yet that Republican leaders will struggle to forge a unified blueprint amid grumbling from conservatives and defense hawks over spending levels the parties agreed to in the fall.

Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, Wyoming Republican, said his decision does not preclude further discussion about a fiscal 2017 budget or prevent the Senate from drafting annual spending bills, since the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 put guardrails in place.

“The Senate already has top-line numbers and budget enforcement features available this year so that a regular order appropriations process can move forward while we continue to discuss broader budget challenges,” he said.

The committee also said the Senate can take up a House-passed budget after April 1, yet much of this year’s budgetary disarray is emanating from the lower chamber.

Despite Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s entreaties to abide by the agreed-upon levels, factions such as the outspoken House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee have called for a fiscal 2017 budget that spends significantly less, without short-changing defense.

“Last year’s budget agreement would add billions to the debt and hobble the economic prospects of future generations, the RSC said in a position statement. “We must make concrete spending reductions, either in non-defense discretionary spending or through enacted mandatory savings, to offset any spending in excess of $1.040 trillion.”

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House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, Georgia Republican, had hoped to move his budget out of committee during the last week of February, clearing the way for floor action by the first week of March, though now it has breezed by both benchmarks amid intra-GOP unrest.

The divide threatens to upend GOP leaders’ plans to get down to basics and prove it can pass all 12 appropriations bills in a topsy-turvy election year, instead of relying on eleventh-hour budget deals to keep the government moving.

Failing to draft a budget could also embarrass Senate Republicans who frequently mocked the Democrats for repeatedly declining to craft a spending blueprint during their years in control.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, recently warned Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mr. Ryan that he will have to reconsider his commitment to help the spending process along if conservatives try to rewrite last year’s deal.

Mr. Reid, his top lieutenants and his leading appropriator, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, said the deal would allow both parties to seize a “win-win opportunity” in a legislative year that’s cut short by the campaign season, without waiting for a fiscal 2017 budget resolution.

“A product of painstaking negotiation and compromise, the [2015 pact] established a bipartisan framework for Congress to move forward on annual funding bills based on the principles of full and fairly allocated funding, a rejection of poison pill riders, and parity between the Pentagon’s needs and other needs here at home, including other security priorities,” they wrote to Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Honoring those principles will allow us to pick up where we left off and make significant strides toward returning to regular order by completing a full appropriations process.”

Yet already, disputes over government spending are roiling the Senate floor.

Democrats held up a bipartisan energy bill because Republicans refused to include $300 million in emergency funding for Flint, Michigan, residents affected by lead-tainted water.

Last week, Senate Republicans rejected a Democratic request for $600 million in up-front funding to combat the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic. GOP leaders said Congress already freed up enough cash to fund policies that were tucked into a bipartisan opioids bill that should pass this week.

Meanwhile, GOP leaders on both sides of the Capitol say President Obama’s $1.9 billion request to fight the Zika virus at home and abroad is premature, since there are funds left over from the Ebola response.

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