House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price vexed by Obama, budget process

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the House Budget Committee. AP

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., said Wednesday that he was “terribly disappointed’ in President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union speech and similarly frustrated by the annual process of trying to develop a federal budget.

In a lunch-hour discussion at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank, Price said Obama’s final address was “terribly political” even though the president’s oratorical flair can make listeners “feel warm.”

“He pulls everybody in and then before he finishes the paragraph, he pulls out the fist and wallops you over the head,” Price said.

Price’s criticism reflects his opinion that Obama dismisses anyone who doesn’t agree with him. Even the president’s call during the speech for more civility in politics “just rings hollow,” Price said.

The six-term Georgia representative also was frustrated with the annual political scuffling involved in trying to produce a federal budget each year.

Although the House of Representatives and Senate reached a conference budget agreement last year, Price said the achievement was nothing to celebrate. He said Americans should expect Congress to reliably, logically and methodically produce a workable federal budget every year.

“The fact is that we don’t do that together,” Price said.

Part of the problem, Price said, is that non-defense mandatory spending for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – which were one-third of the federal budget just 40 years ago – now account for more than 60 percent and will one day reach 75 percent.

“The slice of the pie that we control on the discretionary side, the appropriation process, gets smaller and smaller and smaller” each year, Price said. And that makes lawmakers think that their priorities are being squeezed, which makes compromise harder, he added.

Price said he hoped to change that by working through the Budget Committee to rewrite the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act to make non-defense mandatory spending subject to regular reviews the way discretionary spending is.

Price said Democrats “haven’t shown a particular interest to look at the broad spectrum of the 1974 Budget Act.”

While there’s some bipartisan support for certain aspects, Price said, “I’m hopeful that what we’ll be able to do is pull them into the loop and have them assist us in getting to that process reform.”

But in a statement late Wednesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking member of the Budget Committee, said Social Security and Medicare “uphold our commitment to give seniors access to the secure retirement they’ve earned.”

“Any effort to increasingly subject Social Security and Medicare funding to bouts of legislative uncertainty could cause serious financial insecurity for our seniors,” Van Hollen said in the statement. “Congress is not lacking in the ability to review Social Security and Medicare spending, and we should use the tools at our disposal to strengthen these essential programs, not put them at unnecessary risk.”

Although Price favors cutting the scope and reach of the federal government, he said his proposal would be policy-neutral and not designed to achieve a predetermined outcome.