Panel puts off revamp of congressional budgeting process until after Thanksgiving
The bipartisan panel tasked with revamping a congressional budget process beset by shutdown showdowns on Thursday punted consideration of a biennial budgeting plan until after Thanksgiving amid questions over how it will be addressed in the Senate.
Watchdogs said that while biennial budgeting would be a step in the right direction, removing some of the thornier negotiations from the height of campaign season, it does little to change the expanding entitlement programs such as Medicare or unpaid-for tax cuts that are deepening the government’s debt.
Conceived during budget gridlock earlier this year, the panel was to come up with recommendations that would end lurches from deadline to deadline and put the spending process on firmer footing.
While debating the plan Thursday, Rep. Nita Lowey, a co-chair of the panel, said the entire project could be in danger unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer agree on a fair vote.
“That concerns me greatly, since it imperils all the work we have done to date,” said Ms. Lowey, who is in line to chair the House Appropriations Committee in the next Congress.
An aide to Mr. McConnell said they were unfamiliar with Ms. Lowey’s complaint about a lack of a Senate schedule for debate.
“If she’s demanding that we guarantee that whatever final product they produce is passed no matter what, that’s news to me,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. “We don’t have the ability to make that sort of guarantee.”
A Democratic aide said Democratic senators on the panel had expressed concerns that the language is vague on how the Senate is supposed to proceed, and that Ms. Lowey is trying to head off a potential amendment free-for-all that ultimately derails things on the floor.
After months of negotiating and a series of public hearings and private meetings, the panel approved small tweaks to its base plan Thursday, such as requiring membership of the Senate Budget Committee to include the chairmen and ranking members of the appropriations and finance committees to empower the budget panel a bit more.
The panel signed off on a proposal intended to further promote bipartisanship by allowing for expedited floor consideration of a budget resolution in the Senate if it gets bipartisan support in committee.
And it adopted a measure on Thursday to clarify that budget “reconciliation,” a fast-track procedure used to approve Obamacare in 2010 and the GOP’s tax cuts last year, will be available every year, even with two-year budgeting.
Rep. Steve Womack, the Republican co-chair, said no members of the 16-member bipartisan panel would get everything they want.
“But that is not a reason for us not to move forward and [get] this across the finish line without regard to what the prospects would be for what leadership may intend to do one way or the other,” said Mr. Womack, Arkansas Republican.
The base proposal from Mr. Womack and Ms. Lowey would move the deadline for Congress to pass a budget from tax day April 15 to May 1, and eliminate term limits for members of the House Budget Committee.