By Paul M. Krawzak, CQ Roll Call
WASHINGTON — Republicans are beginning to focus on what they could accomplish through budget reconciliation next year if the GOP takes control of the Senate.
They could use the filibuster-proof reconciliation process to pass budget-related measures — including an overhaul of entitlement programs, changes to the tax code, and even raising the debt limit — assuming Republicans in the two chambers could put aside their differences and agree on a fiscal 2016 budget resolution. Much of the early discussion also centers on repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act and advancing the GOP’s energy agenda.
Some Republicans savor the thought of confronting President Barack Obama with legislation that he would be forced to sign or veto.
“It’s a whole different context when you put a real tax reform bill on his desk that doesn’t raise taxes and does the right kind of things in our tax code, and he’s got to take a stand,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “You put those good pieces of legislation on the president’s desk and you make him deal with it.”
House GOP leaders have started to solicit ideas for what could be included in a reconciliation bill. Several people outside Congress said Republicans are circulating documents that discuss the possible uses of reconciliation, and other budget issues.
“The things I have heard people talk about are they could do some tax changes, which I think they’d like to do,” said Jim Dyer, a principal at the Podesta Group and former staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. “They are talking about energy issues. I would expect one of the things that the Republicans can do some good with, I think, is to try to develop the seeds of a national energy policy, perhaps relaxing oil and energy exports.”
Dyer added that reconciliation could be used to “take a good hard look at the EPA, at its regulations, to try to strike a more effective balance between regulating, between the economy and perhaps assuaging the concerns of those who are worried about the environment.”
Reconciliation legislation can be passed in the Senate with a simple majority, rather than a much harder to achieve three-fifths vote.
But the procedure is governed by strict limitations. In the Senate, for example, provisions can be struck from reconciliation legislation by a point of order if they don’t have any budgetary impact or just an incidental budget impact. Budget law also generally prohibits the use of reconciliation bills to make changes in Social Security.
It will also be a significant challenge for Republicans to forge compromises, because of what would likely be a very small Senate majority if they retake the leadership, and to agree on a budget resolution, given the gulf between conservative House lawmakers and some more moderate GOP senators.
Many House and Senate Republicans favor using reconciliation, and some expect it to be employed next year. The last time the procedure was used was in 2010, when Democrats controlled both chambers and passed a reconciliation bill as part of the health-care law.
“The only thing that matters in those budget packages is reconciliation instructions,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), a member of the House Budget Committee and the recently elected chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “Everybody in this building knows if we’re going to save Social Security and Medicare for future generations, if we’re going to take the worry out of those programs, if we’re going to deal with Social Security disability insurance, it’s going to be done through reconciliation instructions.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, would like to see reconciliation instructions to overhaul the tax code, make changes in entitlement programs, and raise the debt limit, which is currently suspended until March 15. “We are going to have to deal with the debt limit again,” Portman said. “Most people think that has to be dealt with again next year. So I just want to be sure that we have a plan to get some reforms in place.”
The GOP could package a debt-limit increase with other provisions to cut mandatory spending programs and change tax policy, potentially presenting Obama with a difficult decision. Congress alternatively could pass separate reconciliation bills for taxes, spending, and the debt limit.
Jordan favors using reconciliation. “You could use it to get after spending, some of the forms on the mandatory side which is where the growth is, and changes obviously, looking at things you can do with health care, Obamacare, and the tax code,” he said.
Reconciliation instructions “suddenly make whatever’s in the budget look more appealing than it would be without those legislative tools that you don’t have without the budget,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), also supports reconciliation. “I don’t see how you could do the financial things and really address the entitlement crisis that we have without doing that,” he said.
AFP Photo/Mark Wilson
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