To meet current obligations, the government will need $10 billion more next year, forcing Congress to make new cuts, according to lawmakers’ nonpartisan budget office.
The Congressional Budget Office’s preliminary new projections, obtained by The Daily Signal, show current government operations without changes would cost nearly $1.08 trillion, up from $1.07 trillion.
Lawmakers returning to Washington after Labor Day are in for a rude awakening, because the new report means hard decisions ahead.
Put another way, last year’s budget deal between President Barack Obama and House Republican leadership mandated spending levels that were $10 billion less than the CBO’s new projections.
The Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, is the nonpartisan agency charged with providing economic and fiscal information to lawmakers. And the gap identified in its new analysis makes the already arduous political task of funding the government even harder.
With government spending authority set to expire Oct. 1, Congress was expected to pass a makeshift spending measure known as a continuing resolution.
To avoid breaking the $1.07 trillion spending caps established in the budget agreement of October 2015, negotiated by the president and then-House Speaker John Boehner, Congress now must find $10 billion to trim or endure a round of automatic, politically painful spending cuts called the sequester.
That task of identifying the cuts under the Obama-Boehner caps will fall to members of the House and Senate appropriations committees.
GOP aides told The Daily Signal that Congress has found itself in similar situations before, but rarely of this severity.
In the past, appropriators applied across-the-board spending cuts to reduce any funding shortfalls. But following that precedent, a senior House aide told The Daily Signal, could lead to severe defense cuts because of the way Boehner and Obama negotiated last year’s deal.
“Funding for our national defense would be cut significantly below the spending limits signed into law,” the aide said, “and non-defense spending would be allowed well above those spending limits.”
While defense hawks will balk at those reductions, another senior Republican aide said they’re not inevitable. Appropriators will “utilize whatever tools they have in their toolbox” to close the funding gap, the staffer said.
“This is just a preliminary CBO analysis,” the staffer said. “It’s a carbon copy of what this year’s bill would look like based off of last year before any policy decisions are made, changes are built in, and before any final decisions are made about right spending levels.”
The funding gap throws gas on a long-burning debate in Congress.
And now leverage wrests with appropriators. They could turn to budget gimmicks such as offsets, anomalies, and “changes in mandatory programs,” which they call CHIMPS.
House conservatives have traded barbs with leadership over top-line government spending levels all year. The conflict already derailed a proposed $1.07 trillion budget pushed by Boehner’s successor, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Two caucuses of GOP members in the House, the Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee, have spearheaded the opposition. They called for $30 billion worth of cuts and a return to the $1.04 trillion spending level established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Fear over the possibility of a lame-duck spending bill, one passed between the Nov. 8 election and the swearing-in of the new Congress in January, has persuaded many conservatives to reconsider.
Several members of the Freedom Caucus say they could swallow a continuing resolution for $1.07 trillion if it extended government funding until next year. That way, outgoing lawmakers wouldn’t be making spending decisions after they’ve been booted from office.