- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2017

Republicans powered their 2018 budget through the House on Thursday, overcoming months of disagreements and taking the first concrete step in their quest to pass a massive tax reform by year’s end.

Across the Capitol, meanwhile, Senate Republicans cleared their own version of the 2018 blueprint through the Budget Committee, setting up a floor fight later this month and an eventual meeting to work out differences with the House.

Approving a budget is the key to unlocking fast-track legislative procedures that will allow Republicans to avoid a Senate filibuster and pass their tax overhaul without having to compromise with Democrats.

“We are closer than ever to finishing what we have started for the American people,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, the Texas Republican who is Congress’ chief tax-law writer. “More jobs, fairer taxes and bigger paychecks are on the horizon.”

The votes were called after long negotiations in both chambers over spending levels and the sizes of tax cuts.

House conservatives had demanded an outline of the tax reform package before allowing a vote on the budget, and their leaders last week released a detailed plan that called for lowering income tax rates for corporations, slashing the individual code to three brackets and doubling the standard deduction to leave more Americans owing no income taxes at all.

The blueprint has already begun to draw fire, however, with Republican leaders saying they may curtail their plans to eliminate a break for state and local tax payments.

If they do jettison or scale back those plans, they will have to either reduce their overall tax goals or make up the money elsewhere.

The size of the deficit is already a sticking point for House and Senate negotiators.

The Senate plan would allow for $1.5 trillion more in deficits from tax reform, while the House plan anticipates that the tax legislation wouldn’t add to deficits at all.

The House blueprint sets discretionary spending for 2018 at about $1.1 trillion and projects a $472 billion deficit in the new fiscal year — though it says a combination of future spending cuts and economic growth can get the budget to balance in 10 years.

The House budget includes instructions to about a dozen committees to find an additional $200 billion in mandatory savings and reforms — language not contained in the Senate plan.

The two plans also disagree over how to divide spending.

The Senate budget calls for $549 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and $516 billion for domestic programs — both in line with projected mandatory spending caps laid out by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The House budget calls for $621.5 billion in defense spending, breaking through the 2018 caps.

It takes 60 votes in the Senate to change the 2011 law and lift the caps, which lawmakers have done in the past.

Democrats, though, are likely to demand comparable increases to nondefense spending programs if defense hawks get their increase — a move that would split Republicans.

Democrats on Thursday painted the House and Senate plans as massive giveaways to the wealthy at the expense of federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which they said would get deep cuts.

“I believe, and the people on our side believe, that the budget being brought forth is one of the most unfair and destructive budgets ever proposed in the modern history of this country,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who serves as ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee.

Republicans in both chambers touted their spending plans as responsible frameworks that try to rein in out-of-control federal spending.

But the main reason to pass a budget is to unlock the ability to fast-track tax reform.

“The goal of this legislation is to enable subsequent tax reform that can restore the economic growth we’ve been waiting so long to enjoy,” said Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican and a member of the Budget Committee.

The House cleared its budget on a 219-206 vote, with 18 Republicans joining 188 Democrats to vote no.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican, said she is a strong supporter of tax relief but couldn’t support the plan because of its negative effects on the federal workforce, a key constituency in her Northern Virginia district.

“As I have consistently maintained, we cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of our federal workforce,” Mrs. Comstock said.

In the upper chamber, the bill cleared committee on a 12-11, party-line vote.

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, voted to advance the budget through committee but said he plans to oppose any plan that adds even one penny to the deficit — a dicey proposition as Republicans hunt for revenue sources to pay for rate cuts.

“I’d like to see us do tax reform. I just want to put a marker down there that I’m not interested in increasing our deficits,” Mr. Corker said this week. “I’m willing to look at reasonable assumptions, but count me out if it adds a penny to the deficit.”

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