WASHINGTON, March 30, 2016 - House GOP leaders are struggling to move a fiscal 2017 budget amid a revolt by hard-line conservatives and lawmakers as they face a tighter-than usual schedule for passing the annual appropriations bills.

A senior appropriator, Tom Cole, says Congress will “more likely than not” have to pass a short-term continuing resolution in September to avoid a government shutdown when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1, just over a month before the election.

That would mean that a lame-duck Congress would have to pass a government-wide omnibus spending bill again this year, or else a new president and new Congress could face a budget fight right off the bat in early 2017. “You would hope that whoever is going to be the next president that you do them a favor and have a functioning government running,” said Cole, R-Okla., during a C-SPAN interview.

Some GOP conservatives, including members of the House Freedom Caucus, have been pushing to address entitlement programs and to cut domestic spending below the levels set by last fall’s budget agreement between the White House and Congress. The 2017 budget resolution pending in the House calls for $1.07 trillion in discretionary spending, the limit set under the budget deal. As their price for supporting that number, some conservatives are seeking a commitment from the leadership to separately cut $30 billion from entitlement programs as a compromise.

 “We’re being asked to validate a spending level that the vast majority of Republicans oppose,” said Ohio’s Jim Jordan, who chairs the Freedom Caucus.

House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested last week that the House may not move any appropriations to the floor until a budget is approved. But Democrats aren’t likely to provide much if any support for the budget resolution because of various policy measures that are included. Among them is a longstanding proposal to turn the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over to the states to run.

Another Freedom Caucus member, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, told Agri-Pulse that he thinks it’s a mistake for farm groups to agree with nutrition advocates to jointly oppose any cuts to farm bill programs this year, including SNAP.

Huelskamp said farm groups should be willing to defend agricultural programs while supporting reductions in SNAP through work requirements. “A lot of the farm bill spending goes into red districts. All the SNAP spending, a lot of it, goes into blue districts, and then they all come together and decide not to cut spending. That’s where you end up with a $19 trillion (debt),” he said.

One of Huelskamp’s challengers in the Republican primary this year, physician Roger Marshall, criticized him for taking that position. “For Tim to pull the rug out from farmers halfway through the farm bill shows a complete lack of regard for Kansans,” he said.

The lack of time for Congress to act on appropriations bills could wind up benefitting farm groups because there is even less time than usual for the House and Senate to debate the 12 individual bills this year, with the Republican and Democratic conventions scheduled for the last two weeks of July, just ahead of the long August recess. That means lawmakers will essentially have April, May and June and a few days in July to debate and vote on the bills.

If the agriculture bill doesn’t make it to the House or Senate floor during that period, there will be no opportunity for critics of farm bill spending to get debate on amendments that would cut it.

So far, only a single bill, military construction, has been marked up by a House Appropriations subcommittee, and there has been no action yet in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate returns from its two-week recess next Monday. The House is out of action until April 12.


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