CQNews Article: House Appropriators Turn Away from Trump Budget Request 6/27/2017

CQ NEWS
June 27, 2017 – 5:00 p.m.

House Appropriators Turn Away from Trump Budget Request

By Jennifer Shutt, CQ Roll Call

The House Appropriations Committee for the most part is ignoring the spending levels proposed in President Donald Trump’s budget request as the panel marks up its fiscal 2018 spending bills.

The five bills released thus far by Republicans propose spending levels about $26.7 billion more than the White House requested earlier this year — sending a clear signal that a GOP Congress will continue to determine spending levels and policy, not a GOP White House.

Specifically:

The only bill so far that is below the president’s request is the $78.3 billion discretionary line item for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is about $500 million below the White House’s $78.8 billion proposal. However, the Office of Management and Budget says that its VA request was $82.1 billion, a figure which includes medical care collections. The funding is in the Military Construction-VA spending bill (HR 2998).

With more markups slated for this week and into July, it’s likely the differences between congressional spending bills and the White House’s request will widen. State-Foreign Operations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said he anticipates his bill will be marked up in July. Republicans have already signaled they will resist the dramatic cuts to foreign aid in the president’s request.

House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., told CQ on Tuesday that all of the subcommittee chairmen have their allocations for a topline of $511 billion for nondefense discretionary and $621 billion for defense discretionary – the numbers that have tentatively been agreed to by the House GOP Conference.

Those numbers are significantly different than the $603 billion President Donald Trump proposed for defense discretionary spending and the $462 billion he suggested for nondefense discretionary spending.

PODCAST: House Republicans Ignore Trump on Budget

Congress would need a bipartisan budget agreement to actually lift the spending cap for defense above the $549 billion set in law. And Senate Democrats have said they want parity between any increases in defense and nondefense discretionary spending levels for fiscal 2018 – meaning any agreement would likely include lifting the nondefense cap above the $516 billion also set in law.

If that one-for-one parity were applied to the current House Budget numbers, which are said to increase defense by $72.5 billion over the Budget Control Act (PL 112-25) level, the nondefense discretionary level would be about $588.5 billion in the upcoming fiscal year. That would set fiscal 2018’s discretionary spending level at $1.2 trillion, which is significantly higher than the $1.065 trillion set by the budget law.

But those negotiations haven’t actually started. And the topline numbers being discussed by House Republicans are likely to change throughout that process, meaning the spending bills moving through the House Appropriations Committee now will have to be adjusted later in the year.

Adjustable Allocations

House Appropriations Transportation-HUD Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., told CQ that he has been working on his spending bill with the idea that the allocation could increase or decrease.

“I don’t have an allocation per se, so I’m just writing it at different options,” he said. “If I get a little bit more here, where would I put it. If I get a little bit less, where would I take it from.”

But House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told CQ that he does not expect those spending bills to go far – possibly not even to the House floor without a bipartisan budget agreement that sets a real topline in law.

“We don’t have an agreement on topline numbers. Not an agreement with the Senate,” Meadows said, adding that he expects Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution in September to keep the government funded for at least part of fiscal 2018.

When asked about the possibility of House leadership moving spending bills to the floor, Meadows said that “would just be an exercise without really a result.”

Still, the Appropriations Committee continues with its work, even though Frelinghuysen hasn’t gotten any guidance from House leadership about if or when he may ship spending bills to the floor.

He also doesn’t know if they’ll be considered individually, in clumps known as minibuses, or as a 12-bill omnibus package.

“That remains to be seen,” Frelinghuysen said. “We are trying to get all the bills through the subcommittee and the full committee to have things as close to regular order as we possibly can, recognizing that all the chairs and ranking members have pride in their bills.”

Senior Appropriator Tom Cole, R-Okla., said he expects when spending bills do move to the floor they will be considered under a structured rule, which would allow all members to offer amendments in the Rules Committee. That committee would then determine which amendments can proceed to the floor for debate and votes.

Kellie Mejdrich and Ryan McCrimmon contributed to this report.