Conservative: GOP stuck on budget, threat to tax overhaul

An influential House conservative said Friday that Republicans are simply stuck and unable to pass a budget, which would imperil President Donald Trump and the GOP's plans for an overhaul of the tax code.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, sounded the warning at a gathering of conservatives in Washington as the GOP-led Congress faces a busy list of legislative agenda items and a dwindling amount of time to do them.

Under Washington's convoluted budget process, Congress passes an overall budget that sets goals, followed by measures including the 12 agency spending bills or special legislation that would only require a simple majority in the Senate.

GOP leaders say they want to use the two-step budget process to pass such a filibuster-proof bill, called a "reconciliation" measure in Washington jargon.

"You can't get tax reform if you don't have reconciliation instructions. You can't get reconciliation instructions if you don't pass a budget, and right now a budget cannot pass in the House of Representatives," Jordan said. "It can't."

But Jordan said House Republicans are split into three camps on spending: defense hawks who want even more money for the military than proposed by Trump; pragmatists who are defenders of domestic programs; and conservatives such as himself who agree with Trump's plan to cut domestic agencies and deliver the proceeds to the Pentagon.

"Until you get an agreement on that," Jordan said. "Nothing moves forward. And that's what we have to focus on. What unlocks it all is this budget agreement."

Jordan, a founder of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told a Heritage Foundation forum that conservatives might agree to additional spending sought by other GOP factions if they could win curbs — including work requirements — on benefit programs such as food stamps and welfare.

Under Washington's timetable, Congress should have passed a budget by now and already be debating follow-up spending bills. Instead, Republicans are stuck.

A GOP leadership aide said the House may not turn to the budget until the fall. The aide required anonymity to speak frankly about leadership strategies.

"It's all problematic and it's a very difficult needle to thread, particularly in the wind of the political environment that we're in right now," said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., a member of the Budget Committee. "We have differing viewpoints about budget caps and about adding to defense and cuts to nondefense ... all the while knowing that this is the vehicle we need to move tax reform with, so we're under a lot of pressure."