March Madness, Congressional Style: What’s in the FY 2016 House and Senate Budget Blueprints?
Both the House and Senate Budget Committees approved their respective budget plans for fiscal year 2016 on March 19 by roll-call votes, which fell sharply
along partisan lines. Both chambers are considering the budget resolutions on the floor this week.
The budget plans provide a clear look into Republican policy priorities in both the short and long term. Despite differences between the House and Senate
proposals, they articulate a set of common goals – reduce spending, avoid net tax increases, and balance the budget. However, many of the details on
how these priorities would become realities, are less clear—especially with respect to taxes.
Key aspects of the House and Senate proposals for fiscal year 2016 are summarized below.
Overview of the Budgetary Effects of the House and Senate FY 2016 Budget Resolutions
- Balances the budget by 2024
- Proposes $5.5 trillion in spending cuts
- Increases deficit by $1.3 trillion over 10 years
- No net tax increases
- Balances the budget in 10 years
- Proposes $5.1 trillion in spending cuts
- Increases deficit by $1.6 trillion over 10 years
- No net tax increases
While neither budget resolution completely quashes the possibility of using reconciliation for comprehensive tax reform, it appears increasingly unlikely.
That doesn’t mean, however, that piecemeal changes to the tax code won’t be included in a potential reconciliation package. In fact, many of the changes
inherent in repealing the Affordable Care Act − the presumed target of Republicans’ reconciliation language − would necessarily impact taxes, including the
medical device tax and the ACA’s surtax on net investment income. Interestingly, the budgets appear to assume the revenue from those taxes (about $2
trillion) continues to come in over the next decade − a critical component of balancing the budget, as both resolutions claim to do.
The House resolution is more aggressive in calling for comprehensive tax reform to create a “fairer, simpler tax code,” although it remains scant on
details. The Senate resolution is even more vague about tax reform, but it does open the door by including a “deficit-neutral reserve fund,” to allow for
changes to the tax code, so long as they do not increase the deficit. Both resolutions include language embracing, to varying degrees, the use of
macroeconomic scoring, also known as dynamic scoring, in assessing the budgetary impacts of tax proposals. But the House budget mandates dynamic
scoring, as well as economic projections of policies that look forward 20 fiscal years, rather than the standard 10-year budget window.
Other key differences between the two chambers’ FY2016 budgets include the following:
House of Representatives
Calls for reduced corporate and individual rates, including pass-through businesses, but does not mention specific rates.
Repeals the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and “transition[s] away from a worldwide tax system to a more competitive international tax system,”
presumably shifting to a territorial system or hybrid territorial system.
Calls for “broadening the tax base by closing special interest loopholes that distort economic activity” but does not identify any specific provisions.
Calls for permanent extension of certain expired tax provisions (“extenders”) without having to offset them with new revenue or spending cuts.
Gives the Senate Finance Committee some flexibility to reform the tax code but does not lay out a blueprint for an overhaul.
Nods approvingly, without endorsing as a policy matter, the continued extension of certain expiring tax provisions known as extenders.
Calls for the repeal of the medical device tax.
Calls for the budget resolution to include the cost of tax expenditures. This was an amendment offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) during the
Budget Committee’s markup and was adopted with the help of six Republican senators.
Open to offer more tax-related amendments during the Senate’s floor consideration of the resolution, although none of these amendments, or the
resolution itself, will have the force of law.
Both the House and Senate Budget Committees would use the reconciliation process to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The Senate bill also calls on the
Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees to find at least $1 billion each in deficit reduction savings from the Affordable
Care Act by July 31. House Republicans use reconciliation to repeal the Affordable Care Act “in its entirety” and would shift some savings to
The House Budget would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which was intended to advise Congress on Medicare cuts but was never
staffed. It would reform Medicare by changing the program to a premium support model, starting for beneficiaries in 2024, and combining Parts A and B
so there would be a single premium for seniors. The budget also appears to call for some risk adjustment of premiums, and it provides a catastrophic
cap on annual out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare beneficiaries
The House Budget would reform Medicaid, repealing the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and substituting State Flexibility Grants instead, and would unify
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) while providing funds to extend CHIP.
The Senate Budget Committee, in contrast, stops short of moving Medicare to a premium support model, but seeks $430 billion in Medicare cuts and would
move Medicaid more toward a CHIP model.
As part of overall efforts to reduce the deficit, congressional Republicans are using their budget proposal to push cuts to renewable energy incentives and
the President’s climate change agenda. In conjunction with efforts to streamline domestic energy programs, they aim to eliminate regulatory redundancy and
waste for the benefit of lowering Americans’ energy costs. Both chamber budget blueprints note that the United States is at the center of an energy
renaissance, and the federal government should do what it can to help increase domestic oil and gas exploration (on both public and private lands) and
build a robust energy infrastructure in order to enhance U.S. energy security and promote economic opportunities.
Key differences between the two chambers’ FY2016 budgets include the following:
House of Representatives
Calls to immediately end the green energy loan programs, starting with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), and remove
regulations and subsidies that favor some industries over others. The budget blueprint notes that the Department of Energy’s research and development
efforts “should focus solely on breakthrough innovations,” rather than the application or commercialization of new technologies.
Identifies climate change funding at Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency as “examples of areas where there should be room to cut
waste, eliminate redundancies, and end the abuse and misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Following lengthy oversight of various Obama Administration regulatory proposals, including the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power
Plan, the budget mirrors longstanding Republican policy proposals related to regulatory reform. It includes a bid to mandate congressional approval of
any administrative rule that would levy more than $100 million in annual economic costs on the economy, a classification applicable to much of the
regulatory portfolio at EPA and the Department of Interior, among other agencies.
Denounces the notion of establishing a carbon tax as a means to cutting carbon emissions.
Leverages private-sector resources to make energy upgrades to federal buildings and lower energy costs by directing Congressional Budget Office to more
accurately account for the long-term budgetary effects associated with Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPC) and Utility Energy Savings Contracts
Fully funds wildfire suppression operations and healthy forest management activities and encourages increased timber production from national forests.
At the start of the 114th Congress, Republican legislators made clear their desire and intention to roll back certain provisions in the
Dodd-Frank Act, which they perceive as burdensome. Last year, Republican lawmakers introduced several pieces of legislation to modify various parts of
Dodd-Frank and bring regulatory relief to both small and large financial institutions. This year will be no different. For example, Republicans in both
houses have already hinted at possibly changing the designation process for systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs) and ending the
conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Though the House and Senate budget plans do not provide much in terms of financial regulatory reforms, they do broadly outline the policy direction toward
which the congressional Republicans are headed.
House of Representatives
FDIC Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA).
The House plan proposes to prevent the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from using taxpayer dollars to pay the creditors of financial institutions
that have been designated as systemically important.
The House plan proposes to change the way the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau receives its annual funding. Currently, the bureau is funded by
remittances to Treasury from the Federal Reserve. The budget plan would subject the bureau to the regular annual appropriations process.
Privatization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
. The plan proposes to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, putting an end to the two oft-criticized government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs).
The Senate plan provides even less in the area of financial services. It proposes the creation of a spending-neutral reserve fund for financial
regulatory system reform. Reserve funds in budget resolutions simply make it easier for lawmakers to move related legislation later on in the session
as long as the legislation adheres to the criteria set forth in the resolution. The Senate budget reserve fund would support legislation aimed toward
providing regulatory relief to small and large financial firms, improvements to the regulatory framework, improvements to the oversight of the Federal
Reserve, and improvements to capital access.
Debate over defense spending proved to be the most divisive among congressional Republicans. At the heart of the debate was the House’s attempt to get
around the 2011 caps on defense spending by increasing funds for the Overseas Contingency Operations account (OCOs), which pays for military operations
abroad (e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan). The disagreement between fiscal conservatives and defense hawks led House Budget Chairman Tom Price to delay the final
vote until last Thursday.
Despite disagreements between the House and Senate on OCO funding and the overall level of spending for defense, the budget committees reported similar
totals for defense spending in their revised plans. Total defense spending provided in the House plan stands at $617 billion. The Senate plan provides a
total of $619 billion.
House of Representatives
The initial budget maintains the 2011 spending caps on base defense spending, but proposes $94 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations – $20.5
billion of which would be contingent upon an offset, however. Republican defense hawks balked at this caveat and attempted a failed amendment that
would have removed the offset requirement.
The version of the House budget, approved by a 22-13 vote, leaves the original OCO funding amount and offset requirement in place. However, House
Speaker John Boehner has indicated that the $20.5 billion offset requirement would be stripped before floor consideration.
Thus, total defense spending provided in the House plan stands at $617 billion. The total may be raised further during floor consideration.
The House Budget Committee’s attempt to get around the defense caps by funneling money through OCO received early criticism from Senate members.
The initial Senate blueprint calls for $58 billion for OCO funding, matching President Obama’s request for fiscal year 2016.
After complaints from pro-defense Senate Republicans, the committee adopted an amendment by Senator Lindsey Graham, which increased OCO funding to $96
Thus, total defense spending provided in the revised Senate plan stands at $619 billion.