- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Senate Budget Committee signed off Thursday on a plan to trim federal spending over the next five years, aiming to hold annual deficits to below $1 trillion.

Republicans pushed the fiscal 2020 budget through on a party-line 11-9 vote, calling Chairman Mike Enzi’s plan a roadmap for responsible budgeting that acknowledges the country’s fiscal woes and begins to take some steps to fix them.

“The budget does not solve all of our fiscal challenges, but it starts the process to rein in deficits and debt and provide the foundation for a stronger future for our children and grandchildren,” Mr. Enzi said.

The non-binding resolution may never reach the Senate floor, but it gives Republicans an alternative to President Trump’s $4.7 trillion budget plan, released this month, which used rosier economic assumptions and gimmicks to try to show deeper cuts.

Senate Republicans’ plan tracks Mr. Trump’s blueprint on sweating savings out of mandatory spending programs such as Medicare, where Mr. Enzi says $551 billion can be saved over the next five years.

It also could allow for Mr. Trump’s desired $750 billion budget for the Pentagon, but only if lawmakers agree to increase caps on discretionary spending — something the president has rejected.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent who serves as the Democrats’ ranking member, said both Mr. Enzi’s plan and Mr. Trump’s plan would be disastrous.

“The American people want a budget whose priorities reflect the needs of the middle class and working families of this country — not just those on top,” said Mr. Sanders, a 2020 presidential candidate.

Senators weighed more than 30 amendments, which touched on topics ranging from the Republican tax cuts to border security.

The committee adopted more than a dozen of them, including GOP-sponsored measures to extend and expand the $1.5 trillion tax-cut law and to encourage Congress to work on legislation that addresses coverage for pre-existing conditions in health insurance.

Republicans also turned aside several Democratic amendments aimed at reversing parts of the tax-cut law.

Democrats did win approval of amendments tied to auditing the Defense Department and improving affordable housing for low-income individuals.

Theoretically, annual budget resolutions provide guideposts for Congress’s spending committees to work off when writing their annual appropriations bills.

But House Democrats appear likely to skip passing a budget resolution this year, and could instead lay down their own marker for what they want to see in a deal to increase the discretionary spending caps that are set to kick back in for fiscal 2020.

Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, tried to begin that caps debate in the committee Thursday, offering an amendment that would have required any surge in Pentagon money to be matched by an equal amount for non-defense discretionary spending. That is deemed budget “parity” on Capitol Hill.

“It makes it very clear that we will not increase the defense side of the ledger and leave middle-class families behind as we move forward on this,” Ms. Murray said.

Mr. Enzi said it was too early to lock together the two sides of the spending ledger.

“I think we all know that a caps deal probably has to be reached to get anywhere,” he said. “I’m not ready to negotiate in one fell swoop this argument that defense and non-defense have to be equal. They will probably wind up that way, but it’ll be a series of negotiations.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Thursday that he has talked to Senate Republican leaders about a caps deal but that the White House doesn’t appear to be on board, naming acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney specifically.

“I’ve talked to the White House about a caps deal,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think Mr. Mulvaney wants to reach a caps deal. He wants to use it as leverage, as opposed to allowing us to proceed in the regular order.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide