Republican congressional leaders plan to use a special legislative process called “budget reconciliation” to advance their fiscal policy agenda and propose significant cuts to education and human service program funding for FY 2016.
President Obama is to release his budget Feb. 2 and GOP lawmakers, who hold both the House and the Senate, plan to use reconciliation to counter the president’s FY 2016 spending blueprint. Reconciliation was last used by the Democrats in 2010 to help pass the Affordable Care Act and modify the federal student loan program.
Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation allows for expedited consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation. In the Senate, reconciliation bills aren’t subject to filibuster and the scope of amendments is limited, giving this process real advantages for enacting controversial budget and tax measures.
To start the reconciliation process, the House and Senate must agree on a budget resolution that includes “reconciliation directives” for specified committees. Chairmen of the various authorizing committees are then instructed by the House and Senate leaders that they need to come up with tax and spending policies leading to deficit reduction.
The Grant Advisors don’t yet know what a GOP-based budget will contain, but the House leadership has already provided clues to what that might look like. It would probably be analogous to the one proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) in 2012. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the time said the budget proposal failed a “basic moral test.”
The Ryan package would have cut $78 billion in spending in FY 2013 and made an additional $180 billion in spending cuts over the next nine years. Cuts would have included $36 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food for 20 million children.
The Ryan budget package also included:
- A House Committee on Energy and Commerce proposal that would have eliminated a requirement in current law preventing state governments from making budget cuts that would leave children uninsured. Those cuts could have reached $113 billion.
- A House Committee on Ways and Means proposal that would have denied the Child Tax Credit to 5.5 million children whose parents file federal tax returns with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
- A House Committee on Ways and Means proposal that would have abolished the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). Elimination of SSBG, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service and other education programs could have meant a savings of more than $1.4 billion. However, 11 million children rely on services that are paid by the SSBG grants.
That 2012 budget proposal was a political statement that House GOP leaders used to try to turn the overarching Capitol Hill budget debate toward a path of deeper austerity. It will be interesting to see if the GOP will take an old political statement and turn it into policy. Any GOP proposal will be used to crystallize the differences between the parties in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. Could this lead to another spending showdown and government shutdown? Even though the shutdowns of 2013 clearly hurt the GOP brand, and cost them seats, the idea of closing the government as a negotiating tool is once again becoming popular among some Republican lawmakers.