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Don’t Be Fooled by Small “Reconciliation” Savings Targets in House Budget Committee Plan

March 19, 2015 at 3:54 PM

The House Budget Committee-approved budget plan instructs various committees to prepare bills that would cut programs by specified amounts; Congress would then consider these bills under a fast-track process called “reconciliation.”  The specified savings, ranging from $1 billion down to $15 million over ten years, are tiny in relation to the more than $4 trillion of entitlement savings that the budget plan proposes as a whole.  But the cuts that the committees will eventually recommend will likely be much, much bigger.  As Chairman Tom Price has explained, reconciliation instructions to committees set a floor on cuts, not a ceiling.

For example, the reconciliation savings target for the House Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over SNAP (formerly food stamps), is $1 billion.  That’s just a placeholder, not a sign that House Republicans are abandoning plans to cut SNAP.  The budget plan calls for roughly $125 billion in SNAP cuts, and the eventual reconciliation bill could well end up with most or all of those cuts.

The Budget Committee presumably put small dollar amounts into the committee instructions for tactical reasons, as House and Senate Republican leaders likely haven’t decided which parts of their budget plans to implement through reconciliation.

As we’ve explained, reconciliation is an attractive vehicle for budget legislation that the majority views as a high priority, mostly because a reconciliation bill can’t be filibustered in the Senate and, thus, can pass with just 51 votes.

Republican leaders have expressed interest in using reconciliation to repeal or greatly scale back health reform, but their plans may depend on the outcome of the King v. Burwell case, which the Supreme Court will decide in the coming months.  They have also discussed a broader range of entitlement and tax changes.  By setting only small reconciliation savings targets in the budget resolution, Republican leaders are simply keeping their options open.

Unusual language in the House Budget Committee plan seems to confirm that plans for reconciliation are still evolving.  Section 203 grants Chairman Price extraordinary powers to “develop additional guidelines providing further information, budgetary levels and amounts, and other explanatory material to supplement the instructions included in this budget resolution.”  So it’s virtually certain that the instructions in the budget resolution aren’t the final word on what the reconciliation bills later this year will contain.