House Budget Committee passes 2019 budget resolution

June 22, 2018 GMT

House Republicans powered a 2019 budget through committee Thursday, laying out the trillions of dollars of spending cuts that they say will be needed to get the government’s finances under control.

The blueprint cleared the Budget Committee on a 21-13 vote, but it’s not clear what the future is for the measure. GOP leaders haven’t committed to floor action in the House, and both the House and Senate are already working to approve the annual spending bills without bothering to wait for a budget.

But Committee Chairman Steve Womack said his panel did its job in detailing the trims to entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid he said will be needed to preserve the programs for the long run.

“Absent reform, reality will be harsh,” Mr. Womack said. “In fact, it’s not a matter of if but when programs will be unable to fulfill their promise.”

His proposal slashes $8 trillion from federal deficits over the next decade, with $5.4 trillion of that from changes to entitlement programs.

It includes some policy recommendations such as increasing Medicare’s eligibility age from 65 to 67 but leaves specific decisions on how to achieve much of the savings to other committees.

Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, said Republicans should have been more aggressive in laying out the specific reductions they want to see.

“The budget is not a wish list. It is the most powerful operational fiscal control that we have on federal spending,” he said. “Sadly, I don’t see this budget getting serious about changing course.”

House Democrats, meanwhile, objected to the budget’s projected savings on social welfare programs, saying Republicans were disingenuously pleading poverty after passing a $1.5 trillion tax-cut package last year.

“It is an opportunity for Republicans to cast a show vote... to pretend that they are fiscally responsible after enacting tax cuts for the rich that have dramatically increased deficits and debt,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Democrats’ attempts to change the budget were defeated in a series of votes, including proposals intended to maintain higher spending for Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats also tried to cut taxes for wealthier taxpayers in high-tax states, seeking to undo a chance in the GOP’s 2017 tax law.

The next steps for the budget are uncertain.

Mr. Womack lamented the apathy fellow members have shown toward the federal budgeting process, particularly this year when the 2019 levels have already been set by a two-year agreement reached in March.

Congress is supposed to pass a budget by April 15th each year, but lawmakers haven’t hit that target in 15 years and there’s no real penalty for blowing through it.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi says he’s working on his own plan, but that he’s taking cues from leadership as to whether he should expect to speed things along to get something to the floor.