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Republicans jockey for looming Budget chairman vacancy

Republicans jockey for looming Budget chairman vacancy
Colonel - Diane Black - EDT - Republican Party - Sports Commentator - Steve Womack - Tennessee - Tom Cole - United States House Committee On The Budget - United States Senate
September 11

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who is eyeing the possibility of chairing the House Budget Committee, tests out a gavel during a sound check before the opening session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 18, 2016. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Republicans jockey for looming Budget chairman vacancy

09/11/2017 06:22 PM EDT

A handful of Republicans are lining up to replace outgoing House Budget Chairman Diane Black, quietly jockeying for a gavel that will play a starring role in the upcoming tax reform fight.
Budget panel Republicans Steve Womack, Rob Woodall and Bill Johnson are all eyeing the position, the lawmakers confirmed in interviews. Womack and Johnson have already alerted Speaker Paul Ryan of their interest and started buttonholing members of the House panel that elects chairman — though Black, who is running for Tennessee governor, will likely retain her position until the House passes its 2018 blueprint, which is expected around the end of the month.Story Continued Below

Four senior Republicans said Womack is currently the frontrunner. While not the most senior member on the panel, the Arkansas Republican has a good reputation with leadership and conservatives alike. He also organized the National Republican Congressional Committee’s March dinner with President Donald Trump, which brought in $30 million for the campaign arm.
“There’s an expectation that Black will step down having announced for governor of Tennessee, creating a vacancy in the chair, and I’m interested in taking the chairmanship,” Womack said. “These are very important times for our majority… and I think the Budget Committee will be very critical in establishing the right framework whereby a sustainable fiscal policy can be crafted that can reach many of the outcomes that a majority of our majority would like to see.”
The next chairman would take the gavel at a critical time for Republicans. The party has failed to repeal Obamacare, fund Trump’s border wall with Mexico or otherwise secure a single major legislative victory. Tax reform therefore looms large, with many in the GOP seeing it as a must-have to avoid a blood bath in 2018.

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But in order to unlock the fast-tracking procedural tool enabling Republicans to circumvent the Senate’s 60-vote threshold and pass a partisan tax package, GOP lawmakers have to pass an identical budget through the House and Senate.
That’s where the new budget chairman will be critical. Even if the House clears Black’s fiscal blueprint in the coming weeks, Senate budget writers are expected to write a much different plan, jumpstarting a series of high-level bicameral negotiations between budget chairmen about what a deal might look like.
There will be plenty of drama. Several senior Republican sources said the final deal might be a “shell” budget that simply includes instructions for tax reform but makes no major cuts to mandatory spending programs, as the House’s current draft proposes. That would meet with stiff resistance from conservatives, who were promised by GOP leaders that they would not have to vote on text that includes no serious reforms.
The next budget chairman will have to strike a tricky balance between conservatives eager for spending cuts and House GOP leaders dealing with the more moderate-minded Senate.
Many thought Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) — Budget Committee vice chairman — would replace Black. But the budget wonk decided to run for Senate in Indiana instead and is locking horns with Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) in the hotly-contested primary.
The next two most-senior members, Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Mario Diaz Balart (R-Fla.), are both senior members of the Appropriations panel and don’t want to give up their subcommittee gavels on the powerful spending committee.

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