Budget Plans Include Questionable Assumptions

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The House and Senate last week approved Republican 2016 budget blueprints that promise a balanced budget within 10 years, call for higher defense spending and envision repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The plans, however, rely on some gimmicks and unrealistic assumptions about future spending cuts in areas that many lawmakers in both parties already consider under-funded, and on future tax increases that Republicans generally oppose.

The budgets passed on largely party-line votes. The Senate approved its resolution early Friday 52-46, after a lengthy “vote-a-rama” in which dozens of largely symbolic amendments were considered and, in some cases, approved. The House approved its plan 228-199 on Wednesday.

Negotiators will now try to merge the largely similar resolutions into one. That would be a helpful step towards a more orderly appropriations process than in recent years.

Moving forward on 2016 spending as well as on the country’s big fiscal challenges, however, will require bipartisan cooperation and compromise. That’s because although the budget process can be used to circumvent the filibuster on some legislation, Republicans lack a filibuster-proof Senate majority for most bills, and all legislation is still subject to presidential veto.

Both GOP resolutions claim to respect the 2016 caps that were established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 for “discretionary” spending on defense ($523 billion) and non-defense programs ($493 billion). The House plan, however, would violate the caps in subsequent years.

Both plans would raise the limit on “war-related” spending — a special category often used to circumvent spending caps — from the $58 billion the administration has requested to $96 billion.

Other unanswered questions include how Republicans would make up for revenue that would be lost by repealing the ACA or by permanently extending certain tax breaks that have only been extended a year at a time in the past.

External links:
March 27 Statement by Senate Budget Chairman
March 27 White House Statement
Summary of House Plan (House Budget Committee)
A Permanent War Budget? (Politico)

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