House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price opened the show today to talk about the budget resolution his committee will be marking up in the days ahead:
HH: I open up the hour with the man who’s not Paul Ryan. For the last six years, the House Budget Committee has been chaired by Paul Ryan. And the new sheriff on the Budget Committee, one of our favorite people in the House of Representatives, Dr. Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Mr. Chairman, welcome, it’s great to have you on the program.
TP: Thanks so much, Hugh, wonderful to be back with you. Hope it’s beautiful out there.
HH: It is indeed. Well, you had a big day today. You rolled out the budget. I want to give you the floor first to give the summary for people as to what your vision for the budget is that you hope that the House GOP passes and sends to the Senate to work on.
TP: All good stuff. We call this budget a balanced budget for a stronger America. And what we do is we reduce spending by $5.5 trillion dollars. We get to balance and get to a path of paying off the debt. We do all of that without raising a single penny in taxes. We repeal Obamacare in its entirety. We make certain that we put in place programs to save and strengthen and secure Medicare and Medicaid. We lay out a path for tax reform that’ll get this economy rolling again so that we can get out of the doldrums. And we make certain that we provide for the national defense for the men and women who are protecting our liberty and our freedom every single day and for their families.
HH: Now I want to get into the Defense specifically, but first, let’s talk a little tall grass, because my audience likes it. What’s the process here, Chairman Price? What happens with the budget resolution? Why does it come first? What’s the Senate do with it? And how does it impact the rest of the legislative year?
TP: Thanks. The budget resolution is one of those few things that Congress works on that isn’t a law, isn’t signed by the president. And so it has very specific rules. And in the House, it comes at this point. The Senate passes it with only 51 votes, and it can’t be filibustered according to Senate rules. What it allows Congress to do in the event that there is an agreement between the House and the Senate, and this year, with a Republican Senate, we hope we can get to an agreement, is to not just pass the policy within the, the path within the budget resolution, but also to pass something called reconciliation, which truly is a piece of legislation that also only requires 51 votes in the Senate. That’s the thing that can go to the President’s desk .That’s the thing that we can push the President and force him to make a decision on, things related to spending and to revenue. So we’re going to be in what’s called marking up our bill in Committee tomorrow, in the Budget Committee, and we hope to be on the floor and pass it off the floor of the House next week.
HH: Now when the reconciliation follows, there are opportunities to do a few bills, not an unlimited number. Have you and Chairman Enzi been talking about the ones that you want to be able to include in the reconciliation instructions?
TP: Yeah, the big one that we’ve talked about is the repeal of Obamacare, and able to put it on the President’s desk again with just 51 votes in the Senate. But the reconciliation is a very powerful tool, but it’s not a silver bullet. It can only be used for the bills relating to spending or to revenue or to debt. And it’s very specific on what it can be used for. So it’s not a soup to nuts policy kind of thing, but it does allow you to put, again, on the President’s desk with just 51 votes in the Senate something specifically related to spending or taxes, and force him to make a decision.
HH: Now before I turn to Defense, a couple of specific reconciliation bills. I know you’ll pass a repeal of Obamacare. I know the President will veto it. And I know we do not have the votes. It’s important for clarification, important for the American people to understand the difference. But will there also be an opportunity to bring along a repeal of the medical device tax which is such a job killer in its wake of a veto that isn’t overridden? Or does one bite at the apple apply in reconciliation?
TP: One bite of the apple for spending, one bite at the apple for revenue or taxes, and if you have a bill that includes both, then you’ve shot both your arrows at once.
HH: And so how do you, does that mean we’re giving up on the repeal of the medical device tax?
TP: Oh, no. Absolutely not. In fact, there are many people who would suggest that the medical device tax actually has strong support in the Senate. Remember, 77 individuals supported it in the last Congress in a bipartisan way. So that if you can pass something out of the Senate with 60 votes, then you don’t need to use reconciliation to do it, because we can pass it in majority in the House, and then the 60 votes in the Senate, and put it on the President’s desk.
HH: So that might be one reason not to put it into reconciliation, because you can get it anyway.
HH: All right. Next question comes to COLA reform. Is COLA reform something that would come through reconciliation, because every time I look, everybody nods and says we’ve got to change the COLA, we’ve got to unlock the COLA. Everybody agrees. Can that go through reconciliation?
TP: A portion of it could, but not the policy itself. If you talk about the revenue that would be generated from that, or the spending that would be spent on that, you could, but not the policy itself. That would be knocked out in the parliamentary rules of the Senate.
HH: Okay, but you might be able to get revenue anticipated from that, that would be useful in a deal subsequent.
HH: Now that brings me to Defense. Can you walk people through how you are both complying with the sequester of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which offends Defense hawks, and at the same time are helping the Pentagon get to the minimum number that they need this year to begin the rebuild?
TP: Yes, the sequester level, and this goes, the sequester caps are in place until 2021 unless they’re changed. They are the law of the land. And the Defense level that we’re allowed to spend to in Fiscal Year ’16, which begins in October 1st of this year, is $523 billion dollars for Defense, understanding that about half of that goes to personnel and doesn’t, active personnel and health care and the like. It doesn’t go to actual war fighting. And we’ve got a very dangerous world as you know. I know you’re a huge supporter of the military, and have a personal experience with this with your family. We believe that it’s important to provide our war fighters with absolutely the resources that they need to be able to defend our liberty and our freedom. We can’t change that $523 number until we change the law. And at this point, we haven’t been able to change the law. So the way to be able to get more resources is through what’s called Global War on Terror, which is not on, it’s called off budget, so it doesn’t come under that sequester cap. And we believe that a level of $90 billion dollars on that side is the important way to be able to make certain that we get to the level that the Pentagon will say is the bare minimum to be able to accomplish our current mission. So if you add $523 plus $90, you get to $613 billion dollars. That puts us at a point where I think we can accomplish the mission, barely, and puts us above the President’s number
HH: Now the $90 billion dollars, will that be subject to a filibuster in the Senate?
TP: No, because it would be in the budget itself.
HH: It is in the budget resolution, just not under the Pentagon cap?
TP: That’s correct.
HH: Okay, so this is the, last question I have, the OCO number, the Overseas Contingency Operations number, can that go to long term spending? Or is this basically a one year fix that we’ve got to attack sequester in a systematic way thereafter?
TP: That’s the problem with it, is that it is only a one year fix. And so we’ve got to address sequester. That’s imperative. And in our budget, we will provide for a path to be able to do that. It’s called a deficit neutral reserve fund. A lot of folks have been hearing Lindsey Graham talk about it, but it’s something that we use with some frequency to be able to address those challenges that we know are significant, but that we want to do so in a fiscally responsible way, that is in a deficit neutral way, a way where we find savings elsewhere in the spending that occurs here in Washington, primarily on the mandatory side, and use it for covering the kind of needs that exist out there, in this instance, the Pentagon.
HH: So to explain this in terms that even the Steelers fans get, if you can find savings over the course of this budget, it can go to the permanent cap on the Pentagon, raising it to levels of viability foe the military?
TP: Yes, but it requires a change in law, which means it requires the signature of the President. So it’s something that would have to occur in a bipartisan way.
HH: And what would he want in return for that, Mr. Chairman?
TP: What he has said he wants, and people will remember this, what he said he wants is any dollar increase in the Defense spending needs to be accompanied by a dollar increase in what’s called non-Defense discretionary, which is all of the programs that you think about when you think about the federal government, except for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Those are the non-Defense discretionary programs. And so he has demanded a dollar for dollar. We believe that the world has gotten much more threatening and much more difficult in his tenure, and that addressing the Defense sequester is appropriate. We think that the non-Defense discretionary number doesn’t necessarily need to change, and that’s where the debate and the discussion will ensue.
HH: Now if you keep up the, if he refuses to budge on that, and there is no resolution, and there is no bipartisan deal, and you do this two years in a row, this budget and the next budget, so that the Pentagon operates with OCO supplement for two years, then it becomes the issue of the presidential campaign, correct?
TP: Absolutely, and I think it is already, because we’ve heard silence from individuals on the other side of the aisle about how they would plan to truly address the problem. The President puts out there not the $523 billion dollar number. He puts out $561 billion. The fact of the matter is, that’s a fictitious number. It’s smoke and mirrors, because unless the law is changed, and the President provides for no pathway to change the law in his budget, unless the law is changed, that $561 immediately becomes $523 on the beginning of the next fiscal year, October 1. And the President doesn’t talk about it that way. All he does is said, he beats his chest and he says that he’s responding to the need, when in fact he’s not doing so at all.
HH: And a quick, last question. Have you got the 218 votes to pass the Price budget?
TP: Well, I sure hope so. We’ll have it in committee tomorrow and on the floor next week.
HH: We’ll find out. Congressman Tom Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee, thanks for joining me. Follow him on Twitter, @RepTomPrice.
End of interview.