U.S. Republican budget plan clears hurdle with senator's signature

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 29, 2015 1:37 PM

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Bob Corker endorsed the first joint House-Senate budget in six years on Wednesday, clearing the way for passage later this week of the Republican prescription to slash domestic spending.

Corker had been the last holdout among Republican members of a 30-member budget negotiating committee, citing concerns over provisions that would allow higher spending on discretionary government programs.

"There is no question this budget is far from perfect, but it is some progress since it has been a long time since the Congress has completed this basic part of governing,” Corker said in a statement announcing his signature.

"I have had conversations on both sides of the Capitol laying out what I believe we need to do to prepare for next year’s budget process so that we can make much greater progress toward addressing the tremendous fiscal challenges our country faces," Corker said.

His signature means the budget agreement between Republicans who control the House and Senate could get a House vote by Friday.

Corker had sought to eliminate what he called an accounting "gimmick" that would allow unspent funds from mandatory federal benefits programs to be shifted to military and domestic agency budgets. The final budget agreement phases out such funding shifts over time in line with Senate language that he previously supported.

A senior House Republican aide also said that Corker had been seeking commitments from Republican leaders to protect his Iran nuclear agreement oversight bill from damaging amendments. That measure is now under consideration in the Senate.

House Republicans on Wednesday said there was sufficient support in the party to pass the joint budget, which seeks to eliminate deficits within a decade through deep cuts to social programs while increasing military spending. Democrats have vowed to oppose it.

"It sounds good. They said if we liked the first one, which I voted for, we'll like this one," Republican Representative John Fleming said after a closed meeting of House Republicans.

Passing the non-binding fiscal blueprint allows Republicans a rare opportunity to use budget procedural tools to ease repeal or replacement of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

The budget "reconciliation" procedures would allow new healthcare legislation to pass with only a majority in the Senate. Republican lawmakers say Obama is more likely to accept changes if the Supreme Court in June rules against the law's healthcare subsidy structure in many states.

(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)