Politico reported earlier this week that U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, the Republican congressman from Northwest Arkansas, is considered the favorite to become chair of the House Budget Committee when its current chair steps down. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tennessee) has said she’ll give up the seat in the coming weeks to pursue a gubernatorial race in her home state.
The post will be especially significant in the coming months because congressional Republicans are eager to pass a tax reform bill before the end of the year — or perhaps a less difficult tax cut package rather than more comprehensive reform. Either way, the GOP presumably must use the reconciliation process to circumvent the Senate’s 60-vote cloture threshold, meaning the new House budget chair will play a crucial role in negotiating whatever final legislation emerges from conference between the chambers.
If the GOP gives Womack the chair, he’ll one of those near the center of Republicans’ efforts to wring a legislative victory from the mess that is 2017. That will require a familiar tightrope act: Politico’s Rachael Bade writes that “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.” Bade says Womack is seen as a figure that can bridge the divide between establishment Rs and the firebrands in the Freedom Caucus.
But can he? Just ask John Boehner or former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor about satisfying the zealots within their party while still keeping the lights on. Or Speaker Paul Ryan, for that matter.
As the failed votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act showed, congressional Republicans are hobbled by their ideological divisions. If just a few hardliners in the Senate like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz find the tax package insufficiently conservative to lend their support, the GOP may seek the help of a red state Democrat or two in order to pass anything. Odds are that such overtures won’t be necessary — a tax bill is an easier lift than repealing Obamacare, and Republicans are united around the concept of tax cuts, at least — but it’s possible. Winning the budget chairmanship would be a big accomplishment for Womack, but if the Freedom Caucus rebels against whatever tax plan the Republican leadership hashes out, the congressman could find himself in an unpleasant position.
Incidentally, Rep. Black, the outgoing budget chairman, told another Politico reporter that Womack would do a “great, great job” as chair, adding “He’s one of my best friends and one of the smartest people that I know.”