Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, faced with a slim 51-vote majority in the upper chamber of Congress, is reportedly mulling forgoing a budget altogether in 2018, a new report from Politico suggests.
“Republican leaders are considering skipping passage of a GOP budget this year — a blow to the party’s weakened fiscal hawks that would squash all 2018 efforts to revamp entitlements or repeal Obamacare,” Politico reported. “White House and Hill GOP leaders discussed the possibility of foregoing the painful budget process during last weekend’s Camp David legislative summit, according to four sources familiar with the talks.”
While the opening of the article pins it more generally on “Republican leaders,” the next sentence makes clear that it is McConnell who is arguing for this.
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued that he cannot pass controversial deficit-reduction legislation using powerful budget procedures with his new 51-vote majority — and wasn’t even sure he could find the votes for a fiscal blueprint in the first place,” Politico’s Rachael Bade and Sarah Ferris wrote late Wednesday.
There is an element of embarrassment for Republicans if they cannot pass a budget in 2018. They hammered Democrats for years for the same thing during the era of now former President Barack Obama’s presidency—and it would give the Democrats yet another powerful talking point walking into the all important midterm elections.
House Republicans are already terrified of losing their majority amid a potential rising blue wave across America as evidenced by a rash of retirements of several House GOP committee chairs and other high-profile House Republicans. Failure to pass a budget would only give Democrats more ammunition in battleground districts they need to recapture the majority.
But, as Politico notes, there is a more immediate and consequential impact of McConnell abandoning the budget if he plans to do so: President Donald Trump’s agenda, if McConnell makes this move, will be all but halted in 2018. That’s because McConnell continues to refuse to follow President Trump’s advice to change U.S. Senate rules to drop the vote threshold for major legislation from 60 votes down to 51 votes—the so-called cloture or filibuster rule that McConnell could easily eliminate but chooses not to change. So, without the rules change and the slim majority, McConnell would need to pick up at least nine Democrat votes to pass anything out of the Senate of consequence—assuming he can hold all his Republicans together, something he has had visible difficulty doing—allowing the hard left of the Democratic Party to blockade anything President Trump wants to pass before the midterm elections.
One way around the 60-vote threshold without a rules change is budget reconciliation, whereby the Senate uses the budget process and a complicated mixture of rules to pass legislation with a 51-vote simple majority rather than the 60-vote super majority. That is how Republicans attempted to pass Obamacare repeal last year but failed, as establishment Republicans including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) voted to uphold Obamacare. It is also how they successfully passed tax cuts.
Forgoing the budget process altogether means, essentially, an abandonment of efforts by Republicans to do any big picture pieces of legislation in 2018 before the midterm elections—thus affirming Obamacare, abandoning entitlement reform, and no welfare reform efforts.
Politico’s Bade and Ferris noted that if McConnell goes through with this ploy, it “means no entitlement reform or welfare overhaul in 2018, a key priority for fiscal conservatives eager to shrink the now $20 trillion federal debt.”
“Instead, President Donald Trump wants to focus on enacting a massive infrastructure package with help from Democrats,” the Politico scribes wrote. “And conservatives are not happy about it.”
The tradeoff may actually end up helping Republicans in the midterms if infrastructure is the way everyone goes as a result of this after all, but it could backfire. If an infrastructure plan does not succeed in a volatile election year without a Senate rules change, the hands of the GOP on Capitol Hill would be essentially tied, as Republicans would not have the flexibility necessary to pivot to another major issue.
McConnell’s office and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office both did not return Breitbart News requests for comment in response to the Wednesday evening Politico report. But even Ryan seems upset by McConnell’s potential actions, as the Politico report notes that he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—by no means conservatives—have said they wanted to use the budget reconciliation vehicle to accomplish key agenda items.
“Rank-and-file lawmakers aren’t the only Republicans who will be unhappy with this outcome,” Bade and Ferris wrote. “Speaker Paul Ryan was eyeing reconciliation to pursue an ambitious welfare overhaul, though McConnell squashed the notion. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is also one of several Republicans who’ve expressed a desire to take another run at health care using the fast-tracking tool.”
The Politico piece also quotes a number of conservatives expressing outrage at this potential development.
“It’s legislative malpractice to throw reconciliation out the window,” Dan Holler of Heritage Action, a top conservative group, said.
“It’s another data point in a long series of unfortunate data points on fiscal discipline,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) added. “In the same way a budget is important for determining spending for a family, it’s one of those absolute necessities and basics of financial discipline in government.”
Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), the chairwoman of the House Budget Committee that Ryan once chaired, told Politico it would “absolutely” be a mistake for her party to abandon a budget as McConnell is considering.
“As soon as we get back, we’ve got to start on this budget again and we’ve got to make sure we do mandatory spending cuts,” Black told Politico.
Black added that the Senate is “the problem.”
“They don’t seem to have the same energy to get this financial situation under control, and that disturbs me, because you need both sides to do it,” Black said of the Senate.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), another upset member, once again called on McConnell to finally change the Senate rules.
“They need to change the [Senate] cloture rule, but until they do the only way we’re going to be able to accomplish anything is through reconciliation,” Loudermilk said. “We have to use reconciliation.”