Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly contemplating skipping the process of passing a Republican budget in 2018, a decision that would all but doom any major right-wing legislative initiatives for the rest of the year.
McConnell and other Republican legislative leaders broached the idea of skipping the budget process during a legislative summit at Camp David last weekend, according to Politico. McConnell's argument was that he would not be able to implement controversial deficit reduction measures through the budget bill with only a 51-vote majority.
This decision has major political implications when it comes to the Trump administration's policies for 2018.
"I think by far the main implication of that would be that they will not be using the FY19 [Fiscal Year 2019] process to do a reconciliation bill or reconciliation bills," Seth Hanlon of the Center for American Progress told Salon. "So they use the FY18 [Fiscal Year 2018] budget for the tax bill, obviously, and they tried to do it for the health care bill earlier. And so I think the major implication of not doing a budget is that they would not be able to do cuts, you know massive benefit cuts, on a partisan basis through reconciliation."
House Speaker Paul Ryan had indicated that he wished to focus on entitlement reform — that is, slashing spending for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security — as the main Republican policy goal in 2018. Trump, on the other hand, has demonstrated a preference for a massive infrastructure package that he would develop with the help of Democrats. Without the ability to use the budget reconciliation process to force through something as partisan as entitlement reform, Republicans will essentially be left with only Trump's infrastructure package as their main priority — or have nothing at all.
"I think what they're doing is facing the political reality that passing, that cutting things like Medicare or Medicaid through reconciliation, closely on the heels of giving away a $1.5 trillion tax bill, would be politically explosive," Hanlon told Salon.
His views were echoed by Noah Rothman, associate editor of the conservative magazine Commentary, in an interview with "Salon Talks" last week.
"It's going to be difficult for Republicans to get this passed because it's an election year," Rothman said. "And it's always difficult to cut non-discretionary spending. But when you call it 'per capita block grants to states' for just Medicaid, which is definitely on the table, then maybe it's something they can get away with. And maybe it's something they can find bipartisan support for. I kinda doubt it, but they're gonna have to try."
Hanlon also noted to Salon that these issues are most likely independent of the looming government shutdown.
"I don't think it really affects it. I don't think it's a major factor affecting it," Hanlon told Salon. "Because that's a major discussion about the budget caps, about the DREAM Act, about the CHIP program and about disaster funding. And those are the main issues involved in that."