For a few years, I was honored to serve as the press secretary for Congressman Tom Price, M.D. (GA-06). At the time, he was a member of leadership as the House Republican Policy Committee chairman, and later, he became the vice chairman of the House Committee on the Budget.
Today, he chairs the Budget Committee. On Tuesday, he released his inaugural budget as chairman: A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America. I had the privilege of speaking with him about his plan and what it means for America’s future:
First, congratulations on your new role as chairman of the House Committee on the Budget. While I’m, of course, biased, I can’t think of anyone better suited for the job. How are the first few months of your leadership going? Do you think there’s a lot of room to work with the Senate?
These are incredibly exciting times. We have a great opportunity to redouble our efforts towards solving a myriad of challenges facing our nation. For the first time in a long time, we have a Senate that is interested in being a productive and willing partner. For example, when it comes to how we address our fiscal and economic challenges, both the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee have just recently approved our balanced budget proposals that aim to create a stronger America and a healthier economy. We look forward to moving those proposals forward and working together on advancing positive solutions.
Before we get into the details of the budget, I noticed that you have pointed out that, as in years past, President Obama’s budget does not ever come into balance and doesn’t make a real dent into our national debt. His allies and leftwing economists say that doesn’t matter. Can you explain why you and your Republican colleagues disagree with them?
A balanced budget is absolutely vital to ensuring we have a safe, secure nation and a healthy economy that is actually delivering for the American people. A lot of the folks who say that balancing the budget is not important are the same folks who have been championing the president’s failed economic policies that have left so many hard-working families behind.
A balanced budget shows that Washington is willing and able to tackle tough challenges, make responsible decisions and be good stewards of the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. If we get our fiscal house in order, we can avoid the uncertainty that is created by a growing burden of debt – uncertainty that leads to fears about future tax hikes, rising interest rates and inflation. It is important to remember, that every dollar paid in taxes and every dollar borrowed by Washington is a dollar that can’t be used by the American people to buy a car, pay the rent, send a child to college or technical school, buy a house, or expand a business. There are real, tangible benefits to balancing the budget. In fact, CBO’s non-partisan estimate of the economic impact of our budget shows that lower deficits and debt will lead to a higher standard of living – $1,000 per person once our plan is fully implemented in 2025, and $5,000 in the outyears.
Lastly, when it comes to our nation’s security, our debt is a real threat, the “biggest threat” according to the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. It is irresponsible to not address that threat.
I remember you used to always say budgets are about priorities. And the Price Budget’s first priority seems to be restoring fiscal sanity in Washington. Whether it’s cutting $5.5 trillion in spending – the most in history – or paying off the national debt, you’re able to achieve these major fiscal reforms without raising taxes. Can you explain how you are able to do this without asking for more money from the American people?
It is unfair and economically foolish to take more from American families and job creators to spend more in Washington. What our budget shows is that you can make responsible reforms – like our premium support model for Medicare which gives future seniors more choices – and empower local communities – like our state flexibility funds for Medicaid – while eliminating waste, fraud and abuse like we do by ending the double-dipping of disability insurance and unemployment insurance. And when combined, you force Washington to live within its means while vastly improving those programs so Americans have more freedom, flexibility, choices and opportunity. It’s a positive vision for America.
Part of your budget relies upon a concept known as dynamic scoring. For years, conservatives have called for it, citing its reliability in predicting real economic impacts of legislation. First, can you explain to our readers the differences between the current system of static scoring and your proposed system of dynamic scoring? Also, what do you say to critics who believe that dynamic scoring is merely an accounting trick Republicans like to use to create a particular fiscal outcome?
The traditional models that the Congressional Budget Office uses to analyze or “score” legislation are in many ways ill-equipped to fully account for the economic consequences of policies – the affect they’ll have on jobs, private investment, and economic growth. This is not a failure of CBO analysts; rather it’s a consequence of the rules and limitations that govern CBO’s work – limits created by Congress.
That is why we’ve called for budget process reform. The 40-year old framework that CBO operates under right now is biased toward more spending. We ought to give CBO more realistic analytical tools. There is no trick to it. There’s no guaranteed outcome. We just fundamentally believe Congress ought to want to have as much and as accurate information as possible to make better-informed decisions.
Another key component of your budget is the restructuring of entitlement, or “safety net,” programs. This is something nearly all Americans agree must be done (and soon), but few politicians have the courage to tackle them. Can you explain to our readers how you address the compounding costs of these massive programs? Should people worry that they will lose benefits they paid into for all these years?
Our primary motivation in offering these positive reforms is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these programs so they offer beneficiaries more choices and reliability. Anyone who takes an honest look at Medicare, Medicaid or so-called “safety net” programs will see they are unsustainable and inefficient.
In Medicare, for example, our budget makes no changes for those in or near retirement. But for future seniors, we offer the opportunity for folks to choose from a field of guaranteed coverage options – including traditional Medicare. This structural reform would save the program and give seniors greater choices.
If nothing is done, our health and retirement programs will go bankrupt and the first to be harmed will be our seniors and other beneficiaries. We ought to do everything we can to keep the promises that have been made to the American people.
Your budget also increases defense spending by $387 billion over a decade. As you know, defense spending is an especially contentious issue for conservatives. Some believe the U.S. spends far too much on it. Others believe that sequestration badly damaged our national defense capabilities. What should the American people know about the role defense spending plays in your budget?
The first responsibility of the federal government is to ensure the safety and security of the American people. Today our nation faces a myriad of complex national security challenges – from global terrorism to rogue regimes and bad actors hoping to foment unrest and instability. Our budget reflects this reality while acknowledging the fiscal restraints that Congress faces when deciding how to responsibly provide our military with the resources it needs.
Under current law, there are caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending. If Congress appropriates funding for the Department of Defense above the defense cap, then in October at the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year, a sequester would occur to snap that funding level back down. This is the law as it stands today.
A sequester is a blunt and indiscriminate way to hold down spending. There ought to be a better way to go about getting our fiscal house in order while providing Congress with the ability to give our men and women in uniform the resources they need to complete their missions. Our budget ensures we avoid a sequester by funding our base defense levels at the cap. We provide additional funding through the Global War on Terror fund – otherwise known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund or OCO – and then put in place a mechanism for Congress to address the cap/sequestration issue in subsequent legislation.
It is important for folks to know: a budget resolution is not signed into law. It cannot be used to change current law so it alone cannot raise the caps on spending. What we can do and what our budget does is give Congress the flexibility to pursue a legislative solution to this challenge. The first step in that process is passing a budget.
The former House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan (R-WI), is a close friend of yours, and I know you’re both adamant about the GOP offering more positive, solutions-oriented policies that empower Americans from all walks of life. Do you believe your budget fulfills that mission, and if so, how?
A budget resolution is both a legislative tool to give our appropriators the top line budgetary authorities from which to craft annual spending bills. It is also a statement of our vision for how we can build a more secure nation and a healthier economy. Our budget accomplishes both missions by putting forth responsible spending levels and backing them up with credible reforms that will lower spending and increase economic opportunity.
What would you say to those conservatives who are dismayed that there is no Obamacare replacement in the House GOP budget? Naturally, this has also served as fodder for some liberal reporters who have portrayed its absence as a sign that GOP leadership isn’t committed (or at least doesn’t have a strategy) to dealing with Obamacare. Are they wrong?
Our budget calls for the complete repeal of Obamacare and then for Congress to pursue patient-centered health care reforms that will expand access to quality, affordable health care choices for the American people. For years, I and many of my colleagues have put forward reform proposals. The Empowering Patients First Act, a patient-centered approach to health care reform that I have introduced going back to 2009 would give the American people greater choices, a more innovative and responsive system, and the financial wherewithal to afford coverage. It would put patients, families and doctors in charge of medical decisions, not Washington.
The budget does not nor should it demand a specific plan to start over on health care reform. But we can push our colleagues in the right direction. I am hopeful and encouraged by the movement I have seen among folks in Congress toward a more concrete health care reform agenda – particularly in light of how disastrous Obamacare has proven to be.
Do you feel confident that your budget will pass the House? If so, what would happen next? Do you think you’ll be able to get a budget onto President Obama’s desk?
We believe that folks will rally around the budget we have put forward. It garnered unanimous support from all the Republican members of the House Budget Committee. Folks understand what is at stake if we fail to advance a positive, fiscally responsible vision for the country. While a budget resolution is not itself sent to the president’s desk for his signature, it does provide the guiderails for moving legislation that will fund the government and hopefully force Congress to address big challenges.
Once both the House and Senate have approved their respective budgets, we will go to conference on the budgets and negotiate a unified proposal that will then be voted on by both chambers. That will give our appropriators the opportunity to begin their work of crafting individual spending bills.
On another Budget related note, in light of the newest Supreme Court case on Obamacare, there’s been a lot of talk about the process of reconciliation to deal with repealing the law. Given that there is so much misinformation out there, can you give our readers a quick explanation about what reconciliation is and isn’t?
Reconciliation is a limited but powerful procedural tool that allows Congress to advance legislation through both the House and Senate and to the president’s desk without being subject to a filibuster in the Senate. It only requires 51 votes in the Senate. It is not, however, a silver bullet. There are very real limitations to what you can do under reconciliation – namely the legislation must effect either spending, revenues and/or the debt. And we only get one bite at the apple for each of those. Items that were handled under reconciliation in the past were President Bush’s tax cuts in the early 2000s, and the Democrat Congress in 2009/2010 used reconciliation to pass portions of Obamacare.
BONUS QUESTION: How confident are you feeling in the Braves’ chances to reclaim their 1990s era glory?
I am always enthusiastic about the Braves’ chances and am looking forward to a successful season. The 1990s were an incredible time for Braves’ fans. Interestingly enough, it was also in the 1990s when a Republican House and Senate working with a Democrat president found a way to balance the budget. Times have changed but there’s always hope both on and off the baseball diamond.
Ellen Carmichael is a Washington, D.C.-based political consultant. She has served as a senior communications adviser for a Republican presidential campaign, Members of Congress and statewide elected officials. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.