- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

House Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting Tuesday indicating there are still significant divisions within the GOP conference on the party’s 2018 budget plans, which leadership had hoped to use as a vehicle for tax reform efforts.

Some had hoped an official committee markup on a budget blueprint would get started this week, but those plans appear to be at the very least delayed for now.

“I do see a viable path, and I am going to continue to push until we have that 218. I’m going to continue to push [until] we get it out of our committee,” Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican and chairwoman of the Budget Committee, told reporters.

“My goal is to get a budget this year, and we are working hard at it and we are very close,” she said. “We have a majority here. We need to pass a budget.”

But Rep. Dave Brat, Virginia Republican and a budget committee member, said members weren’t given a sense of when a markup could actually happen.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Republican and another budget committee member.

Some members appeared generally comfortable with the working topline numbers of about $621 billion for defense spending and $511 billion for non-defense, though others are calling for more money for the military or deeper cuts to domestic programs.

But a big sticking point appears to be how much in spending cuts to mandatory programs like food stamps will be included in the budget instructions. One emerging number is $200 billion, up from a previous $150 billion.

But conservatives want to see bigger cuts, while committee chairmen aren’t necessarily enamored with looking for areas to slice from their own territory.

“We’re working actively to get there and keep this process moving,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, Texas Republican and chairman of the Agriculture Committee. “Part of being on the team is you fight your fight as hard as you can, you make your positions known as hard as you can, then when the position is made you soldier on and get it done.”

“50 billion is a lot of money,” he said.

Mr. Brat said he didn’t want to name names, but that some Republican leaders are resistant to looking for cuts.

“There’s a few people resisting just 10 billion,” he said. “They’re just saying hey, we want 10 billion from every committee, or 10 billion more. … I think that’s the main hang-up.”

“It’s just commitments of chairmen to find that much,” Mr. Brat said.

But if the cuts get too deep, any deal could ultimately turn off moderates.

“150 billion is an aggressive number to begin with,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania Republican and a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group caucus.

Mr. Dent also said trying to deal with entitlement program changes in the 2018 budget could make tax reform more difficult.

Republicans want to use next year’s budget blueprint as a vehicle for a procedural tool known as reconciliation, which they plan to use to pass an overhaul of the tax code.

“If we want to deal with the entitlement issues, I say deal with [them] in next year’s budget — not this year when we’re trying to get tax reform” done, he said.

Asked if there’s a path to 218 votes — a majority in the House — on a budget resolution, Mr. Dent said: “It’s a hard one.”

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