How President Trump Might Inadvertently Delay Paul Ryan’s Plan for Entitlement Reform

by Sam Wice — Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018

Paul Ryan has proposed that in the new year he will tackle entitlement reform.  With Democrats likely to be united in opposition, Republicans again will have to turn to the reconciliation process to avoid a Senate filibuster.  As the reconciliation process is tied to the budget process, Republicans must wait before they may consider new reconciliation instructions.  While Republicans could immediately begin working on repealing Obamacare and tax reform because Congress did not originally pass a 2017 budget, Republicans must use a future 2019 budget for entitlement reform.  In two separate locations the Congressional Budget Act (CBA) implies that the president must submit his 2019 budget before Congress can begin working on its budget.

Although the requirements in the CBA apply to the House of Representatives and Senate, the House of Representatives traditionally waives any violations through a simple majority vote.  However, the Senate traditionally defers to the Senate Parliamentarian and requires a 60-vote threshold to waive any violations.  Thus, the Senate Parliamentarian will effectively be responsible for interpreting the CBA.

First, Congress can only comply with the CBA’s reporting requirements if the president has already submitted a budget.  The CBA requires that a report accompanying the concurrent budget resolution, which would unlock reconciliation, must include “a comparison of the levels of total new budget authority, total outlays, total revenues, and the surplus or deficit for each fiscal year set forth in the resolution with those requested in the budget submitted by the President.”  The only way for Congress to satisfy that requirement is if President Trump were to first submit his budget.

Second, the CBA timeline requires the president to have already submitted a budget.  In considering a budget resolution, the CBA sets a tight timeline for consideration of the budget:

Action to Be Completed: On or Before:
President submits his budget. First Monday in February
Congressional Budget Office submits report to Budget Committees. February 15
Committees submit views and estimates to Budget Committees. Not later than 6 weeks after President submits budget
Senate Budget Committee reports concurrent resolution on the budget. April 1
Congress completes action on concurrent resolution on the budget. April 15
Annual appropriation bills may be considered in the House. May 15
House Appropriations Committee reports last annual appropriation bill. June 10
Congress completes action on reconciliation legislation. June 15
House completes action on annual appropriation bills. June 30
Fiscal year begins. October 1


Based on these sequential series of requirements, the Senate Parliamentarian will likely determine that each budgetary requirement must be satisfied before the next may begin.  Thus, for Congress to begin its work on the budget, President Trump must first submit his budget to Congress.

Although the CBA timeline would imply that Congress may begin working on the reconciliation instructions for entitlement reform in the beginning of February, both the president and Congress have commonly ignored these timelines.  For instance, President Trump and Congress missed each of these deadlines for the 2018 budget:

Action to Be Completed: CBA Required on or Before: Actual Date:
President submits his budget. February 6, 2017 March 16, 2017 (Skinny Budget)
May 23, 2017 (Full Budget)
Congressional Budget Office submits report to Budget Committees. February 15, 2017 July 13, 2017
Senate Budget Committee reports concurrent resolution on the budget. April 1, 2017 October 13, 2017
Congress completes action on concurrent resolution on the budget. April 15, 2017 October 26, 2017
Congress completes action on reconciliation legislation. June 15, 2017 December 21, 2017


This year, President Trump might again be late in completing his budget.  Although President Trump does not have to contend with the shortened timeline involved with a government transition, the head of the Office of Management and Budget now has to contend with doing his budgetary job and also running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

To avoid this timing problem, President Trump could try submitting another “skinny budget,” which only has minimal details.  However, the Senate Parliamentarian would likely determine that a skinny budget does not allow Congress to begin working on reconciliation instructions because the Congressional Budget Office cannot examine a partial budget.  Thus, if President Trump wants to allow the maximum amount of time before the midterm elections to work on entitlement reform, he should submit his budget as soon as possible.

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