Today House Republicans moved toward enactment of a tax-cut package (and no telling what else) by approving a FY 2018 budget resolution. It’s far too preliminary a step to justify much excitement. For one thing, it’s a non-binding resolution that just sets out spending and revenue targets for ten years and instructions to committees to generate the actual legislation. The House resolution includes features like sizable cuts in “entitlement” programs like Medicare and Medicaid, plus a pledge of deficit neutrality, which may well be dropped in a House-Senate conference committee. And to get to the bottom line, this resolution is only loosely associated with specific tax proposals floating in and out of various administration and congressional working groups. You can’t get a tax bill that can pass by 50 Senate votes without a budget resolution, but the budget resolution doesn’t ensure much of anything.
Still, the vote itself could provide some hints at problems Republicans will face down the road. Not a single Democrat voted for it (repeating the patterns with all tax and budget and most major Republican-sponsored legislation this year). That doesn’t auger particularly well for the hopes of Republicans to snag a few Democratic votes in the Senate to offset possible GOP defections of the kind that sunk their health-care legislation.
And 18 House Republicans who voted against the resolution — twice the number who voted against the FY 2017 budget resolution that “set up” the health-care legislation way back in January, but not quite as many as the 20 defections Republicans narrowly survived in passing the American Health Care Act in May. Suffice it to say House Republicans won’t have much margin for error either in the final version of the budget resolution as worked out with the Senate, or more important, with the actual “reconciliation bill” implementing the resolution and cutting taxes and possibly spending.
It’s the composition of those 18 “no” votes that shows the various issues Republican may need to deal with in the Senate, where the GOP’s margin for error is much lower than in the House. A quickie analysis by HuffPost’s Matt Fuller shows the range of dissenting House Republicans:
The group of House Republicans voting against the budget resolution because of “SALT objections” — concerns about reported Republican plans to eliminate or reduce the state and local deduction from federal taxes — is not that large given the states affected. There are no House GOP budget resolution opponents, for example, from high-tax, high-income California. And neither of the states (New York and New Jersey) represented by the six SALT dissenters, or by the other states most affected, has a Republican senator. So maybe that group doesn’t matter until the very final House vote.
But you can expect the five conservative dissenters to find echoes in their positions from intensely ideological conservative senators like Rand Paul and Mike Lee. And the five moderate “no” votes could presage possible Senate problems from Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, and perhaps even John McCain, who no longer seems to feel much of a compunction to yield to partisan or ideological demands for conformity.
It took House Republicans many months to put together the budget resolution that passed today; I’m sure its architects, especially Budget Committee chair Diane Black, who is anxious to get back to her gubernatorial campaign, are relieved. It should be very clear that this action is necessary, but by no means sufficient, in getting the tax cut Republicans and their constituency groups and donors want. There may never be a dull moment.