Policy

When the Budget Resolution Isn’t About the Budget

Senators acknowledge budget is all about taxes

Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue is teaming up with a Democratic colleague, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, on amendments to the budget resolution that declare the process is basically absurd. (Tom Williams/Roll Call File Photo)

When Sen. John McCain removed the suspense by announcing he would vote for the budget resolution moving through the Senate, the Arizona Republican made clear the ridiculousness of the exercise.

“At the end of the day, we all know that the Senate budget resolution will not impact final appropriations,” he said in a statement. “To do that, Congress and the White House must negotiate a budget agreement that will lift the caps on defense spending and enable us to adequately fund the military.”

McCain said he was supporting the budget resolution because it includes instructions that provide the path forward for overhauling the federal income tax code without the risk of filibusters, rather than because of the funding levels it would provide.

That’s a common view that crosses parties. A bipartisan pair of members of the Senate Budget Committee plan to get their colleagues on the record about the rather farcical nature of the exercise that’s set to play out late Thursday on the floor when senators engage in a long series of votes known as a “vote-a-rama.”

What’s a Senate Vote-A-Rama?

Broken process

Georgia Republican David Perdue has filed an amendment alongside Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse that seeks to declare that the budget process itself is broken. 

“Only four times in the past 43 years has this budget process actually funded the federal government. Finding common ground to develop a real budget should be a bipartisan effort, and that’s why we’re fighting to fix it,” the senators said.

Perdue also has an amendment lined up that would establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund calling for the elimination of deficit-neutral reserve funds, a bid that’s described as an effort “to highlight the futility of this whole exercise.”

“Let’s be very clear. This budget is a sham. It’s a fraud that’s been perpetrated for the last 43 years since the Budget Act of 1974,” Perdue told CNBC. “The only reason we’re doing the budget like this, 18 days after the beginning of our fiscal year, is to get to a vehicle to get tax done this year.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who served as ranking member of the House Budget Committee, also pointed to the often-ignored statutory deadline of April 15 for completing work on a resolution.

“This is all about trying to create a vehicle to push through tax cuts for the super rich at the expense of the rest of the country. That’s why this exercise is happening,” said Van Hollen, now the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Why else would you take up a budget, how many days are we into the budget year?”

Focus on taxes

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who shares McCain’s interests in increasing national security spending, made it clear that his concerns about defense levels are not really significant.

“The only thing important about the budget to me is reconciliation on taxes,” the South Carolina Republican told reporters this week.

The Appropriations committees on both sides of Capitol Hill have already done the bulk of the work on drafting fiscal 2018 spending bills, though as McCain indicated, there will need to be an end-of-the-year agreement on funding levels.

While the budget blueprint is not a shell, much of the floor debate and the associated messaging has been about the tax code overhaul that will follow once the House and Senate finalize matching budget resolutions.

The tax talk on Wednesday was centered at the White House, where members of the Senate Finance Committee met with President Donald Trump. Majority Whip John Cornyn emerged from the meeting by highlighting the role of the budget and its accompanying reconciliation instruction in that process.

“What we are going to do is come up with what we think represents the closest thing to a consensus of those who are interested actually in pro-growth tax reform, what that would look like, and then open it up to Democrats and Republicans alike to offer their amendments to change it,” the Texas Republican said. “The first step is for us to pass a budget resolution this week to give the Congress the tools we need to get the job done.”

Senators began voting on amendments to the budget resolution Wednesday, with the more significant slog expected to take place Thursday when the clock for debating the resolution runs out.

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